The University of St. Thomas priest accused of sexual contact with a young girl expressed love and affection for her in e-mails he sent her from Rome when she was 14 and 15 years old.

"Be really sure that I love you lots and lots and never think of you without a smile coming to my mind," the Rev. Michael J. Keating wrote in one of at least 19 e-mails made public Thursday on the website of her attorney, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul. Anderson said the writings were presented to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis seven years ago in a church review of his client's sexual abuse claims, but officials disregarded them.

The e-mails, which the girl's mother has described as "quite seductive," were part of the case the girl's family brought to church authorities in 2006. The church sided with Keating, and the woman maintained a public silence until she sued Keating last week, alleging three years of harmful sexual contact that caused her deep psychological trauma.

The archdiocese responded Thursday with a statement supporting the St. Paul police's call for victims to first report clergy sexual abuse to law enforcement.

"We are deeply sorry for any harm that has come from clergy misconduct,'' the statement said. "Our record is not perfect, but we have made great progress, and we are determined to do whatever is necessary to eliminate this problem.''

At a Thursday news conference, Police Commander Mary Nash said, "We want to hear from you. You are stronger than you know."

Statement for Keating

Keating's attorney Fred Bruno released a statement Thursday that said the woman's claims "were thoroughly discredited over six years ago."

Listing investigations by "multiple" organizations, Bruno said, "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.

"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."

Keating is on a leave of absence, and the university announced this week it will conduct its own investigation.

In November 2007, the archdiocese's Clergy Review Board concluded there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a minor, but the panel recommended supervision for Keating and restrictions over his interactions with adolescents or young adults.

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

The woman, identified in the lawsuit as "Doe 20," is now 28, married and living in the Twin Cities. She told the Star Tribune in an interview that she felt church officials believed her, but that Keating's priesthood was more important. Her uncle, a St. Paul priest, supported her allegations.

Anderson said the e-mails and a video of his client describing her relationship with Keating provided "overwhelming evidence" in 2006 for the archdiocese to remove Keating. Now they are part of her lawsuit against the 57-year-old priest in Ramsey County District Court.

Mother said girl uneasy

"They ignored her very credible and detailed report," Anderson said. "To see, hear and believe her would require them to remove one of their own … and damage their reputation."

In three of the e-mails sent between 1999 and 2000, Keating addressed the girl as "Dear Sweetheart" and teased her about boys her age.

"I'm afraid you are going to have to get used to being hounded by boys," wrote Keating, who was then 44 and studying to be a priest. "You're too pretty and too charming not to be and you'll only get prettier and charmier as the years go by."

There were indications in Keating's e-mails that the girl did not always write back, and the girl's mother told police investigators in 2006 that her daughter voiced some uneasiness about corresponding with Keating while he was in Rome.

"You don't have to feel like you have to keep up writing with him," the mother said she told her daughter.

Keating expressed affection in nearly all his e-mail sign-offs. In a long e-mail on Nov. 24, 2000, the seminarian signed off: "Love you scads (A scad is more than a bunch, similar to an oodle, way more than a lot). Miss you too."

Another e-mail from Oct. 22, 1999, ended with: "Love you lots and lots and lots." A month later, he ended another e-mail with "A kiss and a hug." Another ended with an Italian phrase, "Con molto affetto," meaning "with great affection."

Keating often addressed struggles the girl was having in school or home, dwelling on her attributes. In the spring of 2000, for instance, he wrote: "You are a dear, sweet person and a really cool kid besides. (I could expand on this for a long time, but I don't want to flatter you, it's not good for your complexion)."

Keating's e-mails frequently contained references to God. He equated her difficulties fitting in at school as "kind of a crucifixion." In another e-mail, he offered this boost: "You've got really wonderful things ahead of you, kept secret for you by your Father in heaven, who sits up at night and thinks how beautiful you are and how he can delight you."

Keating used pet names for himself including "Zucchini," "Dr. Zuke," "Your favorite Doctor," and "Your favorite Italian Doc." He commented about her appearance and once suggested that she wear "a leopard-skin vest above with pink spandex tights below" for some kind of competition. "You've got to nail the judges even before you say anything!"

Police seek public's help

St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla said the department's special invitation for victims of clergy sexual abuse to report their experience to an officer is part of an ongoing investigation sparked by a whistleblower at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The backbone of that investigation has to do with alleged child pornography downloaded by a Catholic priest from Mahtomedi and Hugo, but Padilla said Nash's Family and Sexual Violence Unit is prepared to follow any new leads.

Nash said there could be one or more than 100 clergy sexual-abuse victims in St. Paul who have not yet reported their experience to police. "We don't know," she said. She asked anyone with information to call 651-291-1111.

Last week, the department reopened the 2004 child porn case after receiving new information. The renewed investigation follows allegations by former canonical chancellor Jennifer Haselberger that the church hierarchy failed to report child endangerment and child pornography to law enforcement.

Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report. 612-673-4213 612-673-4465