An Irish priest who was found liable in a civil case in California for the sexual abuse of a boy has told his bishop he has fled to Ireland.

Bishop of Stockton Stephen Blaire has appealed to Fr Michael Kelly, a native of Ballingarry, Co Tipperary, to return and, as he put it, "see his trial through".

Recently, a civil jury in Stockton, Southern California, found unanimously that an unnamed man was molested by Michael Kelly, 62, when he was a boy.

Bishop Blaire immediately removed him from ministry saying that the priest continued to deny the allegations. Nevertheless, he said the jury verdict had to be respected.

Yesterday, the Bishop revealed that Fr Kelly had written to him telling him that he had fled to Ireland.

The letter said: "By the time you read this letter I will be in Ireland with my family. I am sorry for any difficulty this may cause the Diocese, but my health can’t take it anymore."

He continued: "I have sat back and listened to the vicious false allegations that have been spread about me for the past 4 ½ years, and my health has suffered greatly because of it.

"I have spent the last 39 years of my life serving God and the people of the various parishes of the Diocese of Stockton. Now I have not only lost my ministry, but this whole thing has taken its toll on my very being.

"I have lost everything I have worked for because of these false allegations."

In a statement, Bishop Blaire said: "I have tried to reach Fr Kelly by email and by phone to implore him to return and see the trial through to its completion."

Fr Michael Kelly was ordained for the diocese of Stockton in 1973 after completing his seminary studies in Thurles, Co Tipperary.

This evening, the survivors group SNAP called on every bishop in Ireland, including the  Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dermot Clifford, to use all of the resources available to them and warn their flocks and communities about Fr Kelly.