Kelly Clark brought the first two cases in the modern wave of childhood sexual abuse cases against the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. It took seven years of hard litigation beginning in 1994—including a successful argument before the Oregon Supreme Court—before the cases were settled. But in Fearing v Bucher and Archdiocese of Portland, 328 Or 367, 977 P2d 1163 (1999) , and Lourim v Swenson and Boy Scouts of America, 328 Or 380, 977 P2d 1157 (1999) , Kelly won a landmark victory and judicial recognition of some of the realities of child abuse, including the “grooming” process used by child abusers. The case was especially significant for its original theory that “institutions of trust” such as churches and youth organizations should be liable for child abuse in their midst. It was this victory that helped swing open the door for the wave of litigation against the Catholic Church in 2001, which many observers believe has made the Church, and other institutions of trust, much safer for children. Click here and here to read the Supreme Court decisions in these cases.
Beginning with those cases, Kelly—often working closely with Portland lawyers David Slader and Mickey Morey, Seattle’s Mike Pfau, California’s John Manly, and others—has successfully represented over 150 men and women in cases against the dioceses or Archdioceses of Portland, Baker, Seattle, Boston, Orange, Los Angeles, and is currently (2007) litigating against the dioceses of Omaha, New York, the Military Vicariate, as well as those previously mentioned. Other Roman Catholic entities against which Kelly has successfully brought cases include the Franciscan Friars, the Benedectines, the Redemptorists, the Paulist Fathers, the Servites, the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and numerous orders of nuns.
In 2002-03 he fought, and won, dozens of claims against the Paulist Fathers, a religious order headquartered in New York, for abuse by one Rocco Perone, a once charismatic and popular Paulist who was a serial child abuser, and along the way Kelly won battles over discovery, claims of religious liberty, and punitive damages.
When the Archdiocese of Portland filed bankruptcy on the eve of a major trial in July, 2004, Kelly was one of the leading lawyers representing claimants in that proceeding, successfully resolving cases for over 40 men and women. Along the way, the lawyers working for the survivors of abuse, including Kelly, defeated an attempt by the Archdiocese of Portland to claim that hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate was not owned by the Archdiocese, but rather by individual parishes.
Not satisfied simply to obtain monetary justice for his clients and keep the secrets of child abuse hidden, Kelly, along with attorneys David Slader, Mickey Morey, and Erin Olsen, among others, fought, and won, a battle to force the Archdiocese of Portland to open the files of abusing priests, so that the public could at last understand what the bishops knew and when they knew it, concerning child abuse in the Church. This agreement is one of the few times anywhere in the nation where a diocese has been forced to “open up the files.” Kelly believes that by shining the light of day on long-hidden secrets, institutions like the Catholic Church can be made safer for children. For articles on this groundbreaking development, click here.
Kelly has written and spoken extensively on the topic of child abuse in the Catholic Church, including newspaper editorials, professional publications and scholarly journals. For a sample of some of these presentations, click here.
Bringing his considerable expertise on public policy and constitutional law to bear on the child abuse cases, in 2007 Kelly authored—along with two other lawyers working with him on child abuse cases at his firm O’Donnell Clark & Crew LLP—an article published by the University of Oregon Law Review, entitled “Religious Liberty Issues in the Priest Abuse Cases.”