The first sign of trouble in McCarthy’s priest personnel file was a May 1982 memo to then-Archbishop John Roach. The county attorney and sheriff of Le Sueur County said a 16-year-old boy from St. Andrew’s Church in Elysian had passed a lie-detector test in describing “homosexual activity” with McCarthy at the church rectory, a cabin and a motel near Milaca. A boy from Lakeville, the place of McCarthy’s previous assignment as a priest, also was involved, the memo said.
There were no criminal charges, but the officials wanted the archdiocese to remove McCarthy. “They want him in a treatment program and out of the area,” the Rev. Robert Carlson wrote.
Church documents include a follow-up report that said McCarthy admitted to having a “sexually inappropriate relationship” with the 16-year-old and that he completed a related year of treatment in Massachusetts. The archdiocese did not notify parents in Elysian or Lakeville because charges weren’t filed, a memo in the file said.
McCarthy finished treatment in November 1983, and Roach placed no restrictions in assigning him to a new parish in Lake Elmo early in 1984. Moreover, he recommended McCarthy for a master’s degree program at St. Thomas that would allow him to add psychological counseling to his ministry, the file shows.
“I’m delighted you are back in the archdiocese,” Roach wrote to McCarthy. “I know the last couple of years have been very difficult for you.”
Four years later, in the fall of 1987, McCarthy was providing counseling and psychotherapy to students at St. Thomas as an intern at the school’s Personal Counseling Center. A freshman recognized him as her former pastor — a priest who was a heartthrob to teenage girls, she would later say.
Two lengthy memos in McCarthy’s file tell how the student would drop by his counseling office to say hello, at least once getting advice about turmoil she was in. McCarthy was still a pastor, but they started dating and soon they were regularly having sex, the memos said.
The personnel file indicates that McCarthy did not disclose this activity in a 1988 checkup the archdiocese conducted on priests accused of sexual misconduct. But in December 1990, the woman went to the Rev. Kevin McDonough, then vicar general for the archdiocese, with concerns that McCarthy had exploited her.
The archdiocese hired Gary Schoener, the psychologist who assessed McCarthy in 1988, to review the woman’s story and reassess McCarthy. Schoener reported that the woman said McCarthy told her he once had gonorrhea and he took her to a clinic to be checked for “VD.”
Schoener said that McCarthy “basically acknowledged the accuracy of the story.” He reported telling McCarthy that the sex could have been criminally exploitative under laws prohibiting counselors and priests from having sex with advises or parishioners.
“McCarthy constitutes a risk to parishioners,” Schoener concluded, and “represents a potentially great liability legally” to the archdiocese.
The Rev. William Kenney, the archdiocese’s priest personnel director, had written to the Social Work Board in support of McCarthy’s application in April 1990 and no updates were ever made.
Now retired, Kenney said in an interview he was not aware of any concerns about McCarthy. “I was not privy to that,” he said.
State records indicate that McCarthy won Licensed Graduate Social Worker status in late March 1991, four months after McDonough learned of McCarthy’s actions with the college student.
While McCarthy was explaining his departure as a conflict with dogma, McDonough’s memos made clear that Roach had demanded the priest’s resignation.
“As I understand it, it is clear to all of us that Father McCarthy is incapable of being trusted in a parochial setting,” McDonough said in the Aug. 14, 1991, memo.
Just days earlier, a female employee at Holy Redeemer had complained to Roach that McCarthy had been harassing her with lewd and sexual remarks. She asked if the archdiocese was going to report McCarthy to state licensing officials “to prevent him from working as a counselor.”