The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis announced Thursday that it has completed an "exhaustive review" into the Rev. Kevin McDonough, concluding the former point person on clergy sex abuse for the archdiocese "failed, albeit not intentionally, to adequately keep children safe."
As a result of the investigation, the archdiocese has deemed McDonough "fit for ministry" but will bar him from holding leadership positions involving protection of children. He will be allowed to continue his work as pastor of Incarnation Catholic Church in south Minneapolis.
McDonough was the vicar general of the archdiocese for nearly 20 years, responsible for investigating reports of misconduct and providing services to victims. He has not been accused of abuse, but rather of mishandling cases of known child sex abusers who went on to abuse other children.
The investigation found that McDonough "had not always demonstrated sufficiently sound judgment in handling allegations of ministerial misconduct or in attending to his duties to prevent harm and create safer environments."
Although McDonough "did not intend for harm to occur ... harm did occur," according to a statement from Tim O'Malley, director of ministerial standards and safe environment for the archdiocese.
McDonough did not respond to requests for comment on this report.
Survivors of clergy abuse, who long have insisted that McDonough must be held accountable for the children abused under his watch, said they view the investigation as a step in the right direction — and not much more.
"If they were serious about this, why would it take four years to do something?" asked Frank Meuers, director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in Minnesota. "And what has changed?"
Meuers was referring to a meeting he had in 2017 with the Ministerial Review Board, when he asked the archdiocese to impose some "accountability and transparency" into McDonough's role in the clergy abuse scandal. He is one of two survivors interviewed by the board during its investigation, according to the archdiocese.
Investigators reviewed "thousands of pages of memoranda, e-mails, letters, depositions, policies, statements, publications, police reports and court filings," O'Malley's statement said. "They also interviewed 16 witnesses."
McDonough was given access to the same information and allowed to present his rationale for questionable decisions. He also appeared before the board.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis ranks among the largest Catholic dioceses in the United States, serving about 750,000 Catholics in 186 parishes across 12 counties centered on the metro area.
For a number of years, the archdiocese has received inquiries about McDonough's role in the clergy abuse crisis, according to O'Malley's statement. Many Twin Cities Catholics, especially abuse survivors, considered the archdiocese's silence on McDonough as a missing chapter in its response to the clergy abuse crisis that rocked the local Catholic Church starting in 2013, when the statute of limitations for filing claims on older abuse cases was lifted.
The archdiocese declared bankruptcy in 2015 following a wave of sex abuse claims loosened by a state law giving victims in older cases a three-year window to go to court. By 2016, an estimated 500 people had filed clergy abuse claims against the archdiocese, and more than 100 priests credibly accused of abuse were publicly named. The archdiocese settled with victims in 2018 for $210 million, at that time the largest such settlement for a Catholic diocese in the U.S.
The scandal led to the sale of the archdiocese's chancery and other assets, an overhaul of its child protection procedures and the resignation of Archbishop John Nienstedt. It also led to a series of unprecedented criminal and civil charges by the Ramsey County Attorney's Office for alleged failure to protect children. McDonough's name is mentioned 127 times in the criminal complaint.
McDonough wasn't accused of misconduct, but he was the key decisionmaker on what the archdiocese did about it. His name was on hundreds of items of correspondence about priests that revealed how the archdiocese handled reports of sexual abusers, including giving them repeated chances to reform and transferring them to other parishes without notifying parishioners of their past.
Meuers said he told the Ministerial Review Board that the file on the priest who abused him as a boy — the now-deceased Rev. Rudolph Henrich — contained documents showing Henrich had abused children before him but was transferred to his parish anyway.
"There were 24 letters and memos either addressed to or authored by Kevin," Meuers said. "And I'm just one person, one case."
McDonough is among dozens of chancery officials nationwide who were responsible for priest oversight yet failed to protect children from known sex abusers, said Terry McKiernan, president of Bishop Accountability, an international online archive that has tracked Catholic clergy abuse for nearly two decades.
Dioceses around the world have been reluctant to remove abusive priests from the ministry or take any significant disciplinary action, he said, adding that the Twin Cities archdiocese's response to its findings was not surprising.
"Bishops are not interested in punishing good foot soldiers," said McKiernan. McDonough, he said, "comes from a prominent family, is well liked in many circles, has served the archdiocese for years. There's an institutional loyalty."
McDonough, who was ordained for the archdiocese in 1980, was pastor at St. Peter Claver Church in St. Paul for 26 years and a vice chairman of the University of St. Thomas board of trustees until his 2013 resignation. He is chaplain at Sagrada Corazon de Jesus community across from Incarnation. His brother, Denis, is the U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs in the Biden administration.
McDonough's role in the Twin Cities archdiocese is unusual, McKiernan said, because he was directly involved in sex abuse oversight for more than 20 years. McDonough served as vicar general from 1991 to 2008 and was the delegate for safe environment from 2008-13, a role that included overseeing the monitoring program for priests accused of misconduct.
The archdiocese did not reveal any consequences imposed on McDonough, except that it "urged Father McDonough to consider his level of responsibility and take steps to promote greater healing in the archdiocese, including participating in a restorative justice effort."
Meuers was among those participating in that restorative justice session in May. He and another clergy abuse survivor gathered in a conference room with McDonough, two other Twin Cities priests and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, who has been overseeing restorative justice sessions for the archdiocese.
The content of the meeting is confidential, Meuers said. But basically, participants, one by one, spoke about the impact McDonough's oversight of clergy abuse issues had on their lives. He said the meeting gave him no peace of mind.
The archdiocese announcement, which marks the end of its investigation, concludes that "Father McDonough does not present a risk and ... can be considered fit for his current assignment in parish ministry."
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511