The credibility of a "repressed memory" case of child sex abuse has been an ongoing dispute in legal and psychological arenas for decades. But currently the issue is being tackled in a Superior Court in Lodi , California. The victim, a 37 year old man who has regained his memory of his child sex abuse at Cathedral of the Annunciation in the 1980's, is prevailing in a major court trial that will have far reaching impact. The victim claims he was repeatedly abused by Fr. Michael Kelly; who has been kept in ministry clear up to the day of the recent court jury verdict against him.
The case, John TZ Doe vs. Fr. Kelly and the Diocese of Stockton, has gone through the first of two phases of the judicial system. The first phase of the case was a jury trial which heard evidence from the plaintiff, defendant, witnesses and experts; and that jury was to decide if the plaintiffs recall of past repressed memories was accurate, and credible.
The ten woman, two man jury found the defendant Fr. Kelly liable on multiple counts of assault and sexual abuse, based on the victim's testimony of his recovered memories.
Although Fr. Kelly can not be convicted criminally for the sexual assault, because of the criminal statute of limitations, he was held civilly liable, which is governed by a different statute of limitations.
Fr. Kelly has been removed from his position as a pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic parish in Lockeford, California. The leader of the diocese of Stockton, Bishop Stephen Blaire, has stated that he did not believe that the repressed memories of the plaintiff were true, and that is why the Diocese of Stockton stood behind Fr. Kelley, and fought the case in court.
Since the diocese has lost the first phase of the court battle, the next phase has started. The second phase is a trial which will be heard by the same judge and jury as the first phase. At issue now is whether the diocese itself is negligent for having Fr. Kelly in ministry during the time period the plaintiff was sexually abused; and the evidence for this kind of negligence is usually based on whether or not the diocese had prior complaints, or knowledge of the priests conduct- before the victim was assaulted.
If the Diocese is found to have prior knowledge, or "should have had knowledge" of Fr. Kellys capabilities or tendencies towards child molestation, the Diocese could be held responsible for damages, which has sometimes resulted in the monetary award to plaintiffs in similar cases to be several million dollars.
This particular case is sure to stir controversy, as experts witnesses on opposing sides of the "repressed memory" debate have testified adamantly concerning the differences in professional opinions on the existence of falsely claimed repressed memories.
The Catholic diocese of Stockton insists that false memories dominate the accusations by clergy abuse plaintiffs in such cases, as do many psychologists and paid expert witnesses, who claim that the majority of the plaintiffs suffer from "false memory syndrome".
Countering this opinion, are many expert psychologists who state that repressed memory of child sexual abuse is common, and that this case is a prime example of a credible claim of recovered memory. They dispute the theory that false memory is common.
As the jury in this case has overwhelmingly decided in favor of the plaintiff, there is an indication that at least in this trial the 12 peers have decided that the evidence for the existence of accurate repressed memory is substantial.
Many supporters of Fr. Kelly were very vocal about their disapproval of the jury's decision, and made no effort to suppress their disappointment and anger toward the court, jury, and plaintiff. The local newspapers in Stockton and Lodi have been inundated with conflicting comments and views on the issue of the accuracy of repressed memory; and the decision in this case will affect many pending claims against the catholic church based on similar repressed memory recollections of clergy child sexual abuse.
As a clergy abuse victim myself, I can understand the pain the plaintiff in this case has endured during the trial, which is a very difficult process to endure. However, my case was not a case of repressed memory, which I can imagine may be even more difficult to experience; as the plaintiff has not had the time to process the emotions, effects, and the healing process is harshly interrupted.
As the outcome of this trial approaches, I anticipate that there will be a whole new battleground of conflict erupting concerning the validity of repressed memory cases; and there will be numerous new arguments by psychological experts and attorneys regarding this case, and pending future cases.