• Note to readers: Random Thoughts will take a break this week, as the following story has taken precedence.
Father Mike Kelly, a man I have known for almost 20 years, is now embroiled in a three-part tragedy that has torn apart the Catholic Church.
Act No. 1: Hundreds of young boys and girls are once molested or abused by priests. They carry their scars, usually tell no one, and drift apart from the church that should have been a comfort. They are betrayed by people — representatives of God — that they should have been able to trust with their darkest secrets, hopes, dreams and spiritual journey. Many people suffer.
Act No. 2: The church finally comes to terms with a problem it ignored for far too long. High-publicity trials are conducted. Priests are outed as molesters, their superiors revealed for covering up their subordinates' known abuse. The church, rocked by scandal, loses the trust of even more of its flock. And the accusers relive, but get some closure about, their past abuses. Many people suffer.
Act No. 3: Priests with good names get caught in the frenzy. One accusation is enough to tarnish a lifetime of good work, even if exoneration swiftly follows. Many clergy become unwitting victims. Many who were truly abused and who try to seek redress are scoffed at as "fakers." Many people suffer.
The tragedy hit home for me Thursday when the story broke that Fr. Kelly, one of the people I respect most in this world and an acquaintance since childhood, was accussed of sexually abusing a youngster while he was a parish priest in Stockton, sometime between 1984 and 1986.
A little background: I attended Annunciation School from kindergarten through eighth grade. I was bapsized in first grade, of my own volition (my parents are a nonpracticing Episcopalian and a nonpracticing "whatever") at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, which is attached to the school.
Fr. Kelly was a figure there since I can remember. By the time I was a kindergartner he had moved to the Sonora parish. He still came and visited Annunciation. Once each semester, he'd visit each classroom in the school with a quiz — usually about movies or music or some such frivolous thing — for the older classes to compete against each other. To the younger kids, he read stories, though he very rarely read the words that were actually printed in the book.
He was a friend of my grandparents (my grandmother was head of the Annunciation Altar Guild for a time, and my grandfather was an usher). Even when I grew up and he moved away and I went to college, we had a rapport. He, to this day, keeps in touch. And he does it with more former parishioners than just me, and he puts in the type of effort into his relationships with communities that many priests simply do not.
So yes, I am biased. Fr. Kelly is a good friend of mine, and I do not try to hide that fact. I believe, in my heart, that Fr. Kelly is innocent. But, lacking facts, I have only my intuition and my knowledge of the man to inform me.
I don't know Fr. Kelly's accusser. I don't know his credibility, I don't know his history, I don't know anything about him.
But I cannot imagine the sweet, caring, gentle, strong and wise man I have known for 20 years betraying the trust of his flock, those he took an oath to serve and lead.
I hope, at the very least, that Fr. Kelly gets a fair investigation and hearing free from a frenzied rush to reveal the next scandal. He deserves that much.
Just as it is a shame that thousands were abused by people they trusted, it would be a shame if this tragedy caught a good priest unecessarily in its sordid plotline.