The University of St. Thomas will launch its own investigation of a Catholic studies professor accused of sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl in the late 1990s, and its board of trustees will address the matter with the school’s new president in meetings starting Wednesday.
A St. Thomas board member who asked not to be identified told the Star Tribune the trustees are likely to insist on a full investigation of the Rev. Michael J. Keating, the Catholic priest named in a sexual abuse lawsuit filed Monday in Ramsey County. “There is not a board member who doesn’t want to get to the bottom of this right away,” the source said in preparing for the regularly scheduled meeting.
The girl’s uncle, himself a priest, talked to the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office in 2006 and told them that Keating had told him about having a “passionate encounter” with a second teenage girl while in Rome. He said that church officials were looking into that relationship.
Keating, 57, has avoided all media calls and did not respond Tuesday to an e-mail and a phone call. He is a tenured faculty member who joined the faculty full time in 2005 and also directs a leadership institute and heads the university’s Study Abroad in Rome program.
In the lawsuit, the woman, who is now 28 and living in the Twin Cities, says Keating befriended her family while studying to be a priest, then engaged in a three-year pattern of sexual touching and other contact, ending only in 2000, when he left to study in Rome. She also told the Star Tribune that when she confronted Keating about the incidents in 2004, he gave her his car and more recently paid off her $19,800 student loan.
On Monday evening, St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan wrote to faculty, parents and students to say the Keating matter will be under review “with whatever inquiries we determine appropriate.” She declined to elaborate.
“St. Thomas has zero tolerance for child abuse and sexual misconduct, and great compassion for all victims of abuse,” said the e-mail from Sullivan, who will be inaugurated Thursday as the Catholic university’s 15th president.
Sullivan’s e-mail also suggested she was caught off guard by news of the lawsuit.
“I learned from media reports on Sunday evening that Father Michael Keating … would be named today in a sexual abuse lawsuit,” Sullivan’s e-mail said.
A St. Thomas official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of personnel matters said officials convened a meeting Friday attended by Keating and representatives of the university. At the meeting, the university was “made aware” of a 2006 investigation that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had conducted concerning Keating’s alleged misconduct but didn’t learn of the lawsuit. The university has close ties to the archdiocese but is not under church governance.
A church document summarizing the outcome of the investigation in November 2007 said there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse.
The document said there was a recommendation that Keating be assigned a supervisor and that he be “restricted in activities in the nature of retreats, spiritual counseling or mentoring of adolescents or young people.” The clergy review board that issued the recommendation also asked to be updated in one year “concerning the status of the priest’s compliance.”
Sullivan declined to answer whether Keating was under supervision while teaching at St. Thomas and whether he was allowed to go on retreats with students, or mentor them.
Another teen relationship?
The 2006 police report details a Chisago County investigator’s interviews with the then-20-year-old Twin Cities woman, her parents and her uncle. As an adult, the woman describes Keating, a close family friend, as “my abuser” when she was between 13 and 15 years old. As a young teen, she said she was confused by Keating’s touching, kisses and attention.
“I distinctly remember thinking to myself this … is not how my dad would touch me. This is not how my uncle … would touch me.”
The inappropriate touching and an open mouth kiss confused the naive teenager, who thought of Keating as a “favorite uncle.” But as the years passed and she tried to make sense of it, the woman told police that she first confided to her uncle that Keating touched her inappropriately. The two confronted Keating, who reportedly said he was sorry she misperceived touches that were meant to be “pure.”
According to the Chisago County report, the girl’s uncle told investigators that Keating later called him to talk about the Italian girl, who came to the United States to attend Keating’s ordination, where she and the priest’s niece reportedly talked. He said that Keating said he was “anxious” that the Italian teen may have talked about their one encounter and said it was the teen who seduced him.
Archdiocese attorney Andrew Eisenzimmer told investigators that church officials were unable to reach the Italian teen by telephone but contacted her via e-mail in search of information about Keating’s behavior around young females. Eisenzimmer said the teen wrote back, saying Keating’s behavior “has always been correct.”
In late March 2006, the Chisago County investigator tried to set up an interview with Keating, who canceled one session. The investigator eventually interviewed the priest by phone and said Keating told him that he had not touched the girl in a sexual way and that she had misinterpreted his attentions.
Soon afterward, the investigator wrote, Keating’s attorney called to say he did not wish his client to meet with police.
On April 25, 2006, the investigator wrote, he spoke with an assistant Chisago County attorney and “The determination was made that there was not enough evidence to charge Keating.”