The point person on clergy sex abuse for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis acknowledged that church practice allowed priests who sexually abused children to remain in the priesthood, usually in jobs where they would be less likely to have contact with children.
In a court-ordered deposition made public Thursday, the Rev. Kevin McDonough could recall only two occasions when he alerted police about priests suspected of abusing children, as required by law.
In recent months the church has disclosed the names of 41 priests credibly accused of abuse.
McDonough’s 320 pages of testimony provided new insights into the church’s response to child sex abuse allegations and capped a remarkable week of legal wrangling that included the release of the deposition of Archbishop John Nienstedt.
McDonough served as the second-highest-ranking local official in the Catholic Church for nearly two decades and under two archbishops. Under Nienstedt, he became the “delegate for safe environment,” overseeing child abuse prevention efforts until stepping down last year, shortly before news reports named him as a key decisionmaker in several abuse cases.
In his nearly seven-hour deposition, taken April 6, McDonough explained how the church had handled sex abusers over the years.
“In the period from 1988 until 2002, men who had committed crimes against young people were still retained in what we understood to be administrative capacities in the archdiocese,” he testified, “ … and were still allowed to practice as priests, for example, saying mass to convents of sisters. And after 2002 … that was no longer permitted.”
Extra money for abusers
In 2002, U.S. bishops created a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which called for zero tolerance of abuse and for reporting abuse to authorities.
But when pressed about his response to requests late last year by St. Paul police to discuss a recent child abuse case, McDonough said he did not make himself available.
“Not long ago, perhaps before Christmas, I don’t recall exactly, two St. Paul police officers reached out, left a letter for me because I wasn’t absent — I — I wasn’t present, I was saying mass at the time,” McDonough testified.
“I turned the letter over to my attorney and asked my attorney …”
His attorney, Andrew Birrell, interjected: “Don’t tell him what you told me.”
McDonough acknowledged that priests removed from active ministry because of child sex abuse, as well as other “behavioral issues,” were typically given “transitional assistance” — or support checks from the archdiocese.
“Was that transitional assistance more money than they would have received if they were working as a pastor at a parish?” attorney Jeff Anderson asked.
“In some cases, it could be,” McDonough said.
Asked whether the church destroyed key documents, a charge Anderson has made, McDonough acknowledged that his handwritten notes about priests and victims were often destroyed. “I had the practice of turning them into a memorandum and then destroying the notes,” McDonough said. “Not always, of course. At times I simply sent the raw notes to the file.”
But McDonough denied this week’s assertion by Nienstedt that he had advised the archbishop not to record or keep records of certain conversations about child abusers.
“First of all, he [Nienstedt] and I would never have been in a position for much casual conversation,” McDonough said. “Archbishop Nienstedt managed largely by memo … but I don’t recall the question ever being asked about recording conversations with — between the archbishop and myself.”
A contentious back-and-forth emerged during the testimony, which attorney Mike Finnegan of Anderson & Associates characterized as showing “a consistent pattern of deny, minimize and blame.”
The testimony was critical, he said, because McDonough, vicar general from 1991 to 2008 under Archbishops John Roach and Harry Flynn, was “far and away the most knowledgeable person about child sex abuse in the archdiocese.”
McDonough said the archdiocese did not try to hide information about abusive priests from the police or parishioners, and added that a child’s safety is important.
“Any time a kid is hurt, my heart’s broken,” he said.
That said, McDonough didn’t support the archdiocese’s decision to release its list of “credibly accused” child sex offenders last fall.
“I don’t think lists are apt instruments,” he said. “I don’t think the world’s a better place because of that, but I do believe that disclosure has its very, very important utility …”
McDonough testified that he was aware that certain priests accused of child abuse, such as the Revs. Timothy McCarthy, Gil Gustafson and Lee Krautkremer, left active ministry but continued to work in areas that placed them among children.
In some instances, McDonough said he was unaware of key details about the men, including a doctor’s diagnosis in 1987 that Krautkremer would likely reoffend.
In the case of Gustafson, convicted of abusing a White Bear Lake boy in the 1980s, McDonough said he was unaware until recently that Gustafson had a consulting contract with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis. It did not concern him enough to notify students and parents, he said, because he assumed they already knew of Gustafson’s past.
“Doesn’t concern me much because, of course, Gustafson was the poster priest for this, his — his issues were very, very widely known,” McDonough said.
“So you think that people at Cristo Rey and the other parishes know what you know about that?” Anderson asked.
“Yes,” McDonough said.
Other topics that arose in the wide-ranging deposition:
• On McDonough’s refusal to talk with the archdiocese’s independent task force on abuse: “The archbishop never approached me and ordered me to appear before anyone,” he said, adding that his policies regarding priest misconduct already are well-documented.
• On why he did not have concerns about the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who was caught approaching young men several years before his 2013 conviction for sexually abusing two boys outside his St. Paul church: “I was dealing with a man I thought to be an adult gay male.”
• On any regrets: “I regret, especially in the earliest years that I was working when we were still working with an outdated and now clearly dangerous assumption about rehabilitation for such men, I regret that deeply,” he said. “I feel good about the work that we were doing already by the early 1990s.”
McDonough and Nienstedt were ordered to give their sworn testimony by Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North as part of the lawsuit by a plaintiff identified as John Doe 1, who claims he was abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the 1970s. It was the first of more than two dozen lawsuits filed since May, when Minnesota changed its statute of limitations to allow older child abuse cases.
Finnegan said the firm will ask the judge for permission to depose McDonough and Nienstedt again.