Abusive priests allowed to keep working, McDonough testifies

Former vicar general said abusive priests also received financial support.

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.

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