A lawyer for the Rev. Michael Keating spoke publicly for the first time Thursday about allegations that he had sexual contact with a young teenage girl when he was studying for the priesthood.

In a statement released to the Star Tribune, Keating’s attorney Fred Bruno said, “The allegations in this lawsuit are false and highly defamatory. The plaintiff’s attorney is merely recycling claims that were thoroughly discredited over six years ago after being originally lofted. The plaintiff’s accusations at that time were independently investigated by multiple government agencies, professionals, and organizations, including the Chisago County Sheriff, the Chisago County Attorney, the Archdiocese, and two independent forensic psychologists.

“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.

“Father Keating has been deeply pained by these untrue accusations. 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. It is hoped that the remainder of the legal process in this case will proceed in the orderly and civil manner observed by the Minnesota courts.”

A lawsuit filed against Keating last week, by a 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 in 2000.

Keating is a tenured University of St. Thomas faculty member who became a full-time professor in 2005 and also directs a leadership institute and heads the university’s Study Abroad in Rome program. Recently, Keating has been a speaker in the archdiocese’s Rediscover Catholicism movement. He has taken a voluntary leave of absence, church officials said.

The woman’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, said his client reported Keating’s actions to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which is not named in the lawsuit, in 2006.

A clergy review board interviewed the woman, reviewed evidence and determined in 2007 that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse. It recommended supervision of Keating and that he be “restricted in activities in the nature of retreats, spiritual counseling or mentoring of adolescents or young people.”

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