With suit pending, University of St. Thomas priest goes on leave

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 14, 2013 - 10:20 AM

The Rev. Michael J. Keating, a professor at the University of St. Thomas, is accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.

Jeff Anderson
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St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson

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A prominent Catholic priest and professor about to be sued for allegedly sexually abusing a Twin Cities-area girl more than a decade ago has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his priestly and teaching duties.

The Rev. Michael J. Keating, a popular Catholic Studies teacher at the University of St. Thomas, is on a voluntary leave of absence, Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said Sunday. Accurso said he couldn’t discuss the reasons for the leave or any of the allegations involving Keating.

Lawyer Jeff Anderson, the woman’s attorney, said that his office notified Keating of the lawsuit on Saturday and plans to file the complaint Monday morning in Ramsey County District Court.

Keating could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Keating, 57, is 29 years older than the alleged victim, who Anderson said was 13 when the abuse began. That would mean the alleged abuse began about 15 years ago, before Keating completed his religious studies and was ordained as a priest in 2002.

Records show he was in the seminary in St. Paul before his ordination. Recently, Keating has been a speaker in the archdiocese’s Rediscover Catholicism movement.

Anderson said his client reported Keating’s actions to the archdiocese, which is not named in the lawsuit, in 2006. He said he would elaborate on the litigation Monday at a news conference, but said it is “deeply troubling” that the archdiocese has kept Keating in ministry.

Accurso said he couldn’t comment on the details of Anderson’s allegations.

In 2005, Keating joined the University of St. Thomas as a full-time faculty member, where he serves as director of the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership, according to Doug Hennes, a university spokesman.

Hennes confirmed that Keating is on leave from the school, but said he couldn’t comment further.

The Habiger Institute describes itself as a “place of thoughtful analysis concerning what it means to be a Catholic leader in our modern society.” Keating’s faculty listing at the university also says he is manager of the school’s Rome Program and an associate professor of Catholic Studies. His courses this semester includes a class called “The Search for Happiness” and “Modernity and the Church.”

According to the St. Thomas website, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in history at the University of Notre Dame. He also received an M.A. in theology from the Dominican Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), in Rome.

A university news report said he was tenured at the school in 2011. The item also said he had provided extensive editing on some recent books about Mother Teresa and once led students on a yearlong volunteer program for the needy in Denver called Christ in the City. The story also said he been the chaplain for the Catholic men’s and women’s houses on campus.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis earlier this month created a Safe Environmental and Ministerial Standards Task Force that is charged with reviewing policies and procedures related to several recent reports of misconduct among its clergy, and the handling of those complaints by archdiocese officials. That six-member task force was appointed by task force vicar Reginald Whitt, a Dominican priest from the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

When the task force was announced, Archbishop John Nienstedt said, “These allegations must be addressed urgently, transparently and with truly independent review. ... There can be no room for misconduct among our clergy and our standard must be zero tolerance for abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.”

 

Staff Writer Jim Buchta contributed to this report. Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

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Jeff Anderson