Priest sent e-mails expressing love to girl who says he abused her

In e-mails sent from Rome, he expressed his love and affection for teen girl he is accused of sexually abusing. His lawyer said claims were “discredited.”

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Attorney Jeff Anderson talked about a lawsuit that was filed Monday in Ramsey County against the Rev. Michael Keating.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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The University of St. Thomas priest accused of sexual contact with a young girl expressed love and affection for her in e-mails he sent her from Rome when she was 14 and 15 years old.

“Be really sure that I love you lots and lots and never think of you without a smile coming to my mind,” the Rev. Michael J. Keating wrote in one of at least 19 e-mails made public Thursday on the website of her attorney, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul. Anderson said the writings were presented to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis seven years ago in a church review of his client’s sexual abuse claims, but officials disregarded them.

The e-mails, which the girl’s mother has described as “quite seductive,” were part of the case the girl’s family brought to church authorities in 2006. The church sided with Keating, and the woman maintained a public silence until she sued Keating last week, alleging three years of harmful sexual contact that caused her deep psychological trauma.

The archdiocese responded Thursday with a statement supporting the St. Paul police’s call for victims to first report clergy sexual abuse to law enforcement.

“We are deeply sorry for any harm that has come from clergy misconduct,’’ the statement said. “Our record is not perfect, but we have made great progress, and we are determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this problem.’’

At a Thursday news conference, Police Commander Mary Nash said, “We want to hear from you. You are stronger than you know.”

Statement for Keating

Keating’s attorney Fred Bruno released a statement Thursday that said the woman’s claims “were thoroughly discredited over six years ago.”

Listing investigations by “multiple” organizations, Bruno said, “These comprehensive efforts concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated. Additionally, Father Keating passed a polygraph administered by Minnesota’s most experienced and highly regarded law enforcement polygrapher.

“The unfortunate grandstanding and publicity generated by the recent announcement of this lawsuit add nothing to the credibility of the claims. Such self-serving tactics do not promote genuine justice, and are needlessly hurtful to an esteemed member of the Catholic community and to the Church as a whole.”

Keating is on a leave of absence, and the university announced this week it will conduct its own investigation.

In November 2007, the archdiocese’s Clergy Review Board concluded there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a minor, but the panel recommended supervision for Keating and restrictions over his interactions with adolescents or young adults.

A 2006 police investigation in Chisago County determined there was not enough evidence to charge Keating.

The woman, identified in the lawsuit as “Doe 20,” is now 28, married and living in the Twin Cities. She told the Star Tribune in an interview that she felt church officials believed her, but that Keating’s priesthood was more important. Her uncle, a St. Paul priest, supported her allegations.

Anderson said the e-mails and a video of his client describing her relationship with Keating provided “overwhelming evidence” in 2006 for the archdiocese to remove Keating. Now they are part of her lawsuit against the 57-year-old priest in Ramsey County District Court.

Mother said girl uneasy

“They ignored her very credible and detailed report,” Anderson said. “To see, hear and believe her would require them to remove one of their own … and damage their reputation.”

In three of the e-mails sent between 1999 and 2000, Keating addressed the girl as “Dear Sweetheart” and teased her about boys her age.

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