New documents released in a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit show that a former high-ranking church official intervened to help a prominent University of St. Thomas priest accused of sexual misconduct perform a wedding out of state.
The Rev. Michael Keating was turned down when he first asked officials of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to verify in writing that he had “never been accused of any act of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct involving a minor.”
But e-mails made public Monday show that former Vicar General Kevin McDonough later stepped in to comply with Keating’s request and sign paperwork that attorneys for Keating’s alleged victim described as a lie.
McDonough served as the second-highest-ranking local official in the Catholic Church for nearly two decades and under two archbishops; for many years, he was the archdiocese’s point person on clergy sex abuse allegations.
In that role, McDonough had spent years dealing with various sexual allegations involving Keating, who was supposed to be monitored at St. Thomas on the advice of a special church panel that reviewed him in 2007.
McDonough is now a pastor in St. Paul. His attorney, Andrew Birrell, did not respond to Monday’s disclosures.
The archdiocese did not comment on the release of the documents, but Bishop Lee Piché said Monday that Keating is on a leave of absence and hasn’t been acting as a priest since October 2013.
The 2011 verification check on Keating came from a Catholic parish in Peachtree City, Ga., to conform with the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s standard vetting process to determine if an outside priest has the qualifications and moral standing to perform sacraments. Keating needed the approval to preside at the wedding of his godson.
Plaintiff tells her story
St. Paul attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan held a news conference Monday to discuss the priests’ actions and to introduce their client, Marie Mielke, identified until now as Doe 20.
“I don’t want to live in the shadows anymore,” Mielke said.
Mielke said that Keating, a close friend of her family, started abusing her when she was 12 years old and he was studying for the priesthood in his early 40s.
The alleged abuse included touching her breast, putting his fingers into her mouth and having her lie on him.
She said it took years to recognize the behavior as abuse. “I think it was especially confusing because we loved and trusted him so much,” she said.
Mielke said she read a textbook chapter on sexual abuse when she was a freshman in college and then realized that Keating had abused her.
“I felt so ashamed that I wanted to die. I did,” she said. “I wanted to kill myself.”
E-mails show intervention
According to confidential e-mails released Monday, in 2011 Keating asked Jennifer Haselberger, then the archdiocese’s chancellor for canonical affairs, to sign off on the paperwork from Georgia. Haselberger declined. “I believe you … are probably aware that I cannot answer in the affirmative to all the questions posed,” she wrote on April 13, 2011. “Would you like me to complete the form to the extent that I am able, providing the necessary explanation?”
The next day, Keating e-mailed McDonough with an appeal and a copy of the paperwork from Georgia. Keating wrote that Haselberger did not complete the form, “I think because of the one question concerning accusation.”
McDonough’s full reply on April 18 said, “Michael: I have prepared it and will fax and mail it to Atlanta. Jennifer does not know how to make a mental reservation. The question from Atlanta should read ‘credibly accused.’ Every priest in the world has been falsely accused by some delusional person at one time or another.”
Haselberger, who resigned as chancellor in April 2013, said in a statement Monday that McDonough and other high-ranking Catholics in St. Paul “found it easy to disregard my advice, no matter how sound, on the basis of my gender and status as a lay person.”
Haselberger said “mental reservation” in Catholic theology provides a way to prevent the spread of certain information, but only for the greater good.
For instance, she said, it would allow a person to lie to foil a murder plot.
Asked if McDonough lied in clearing Keating for the wedding, Haselberger said, “Of course.’’
Anderson said the e-mails show that church leaders didn’t take seriously the allegations against Keating.
He said McDonough is in effect saying, “She’s not one of us … and does not know how to tell the lie and keep it.”
Attorney defends Keating
The lawsuit names Keating, McDonough and the archdiocese.
Keating’s attorney, Roger Gross, said the evidence supports Keating’s stance that he did nothing wrong. Keating resigned last year from the faculty at St. Thomas, where he was a star professor in the Department of Catholic Studies. The head of the department, Don Briel, retired last year.
Documents furnished to the Star Tribune show that Archbishop John Nienstedt was disappointed in Briel in May 2010 for assigning Keating to the Catholic Studies Program in Rome with only minimal supervision.
“He needs to be home where his activities can be monitored,’’ Nienstedt wrote to Briel. The archbishop had received a memo informing him that Keating was not being monitored at St. Thomas, violating a 2007 recommendation by the Clergy Review Board.
The review board had ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a child by Keating, but the case is now being reconsidered.
Piché said the Clergy Review Board’s next assessment will be comprehensive and include a “revisit of decisions made in the past.”
Asked about Nienstedt’s role in her case, Mielke said that she personally likes Nienstedt but that he was “a coward” for failing to address abuse issues.
She said she was skeptical about the archdiocese making change.
“It’s hard,” she said. “How many chances do you give someone?”