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St. Thomas priest on leave, lawsuit filed

By ,  |  Monday, October 14, 2013 7:31 AM

Updated Monday, Oct. 14, at 8:33 p.m.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Twin Cities woman filed a lawsuit Monday against a Catholic priest and St. Thomas professor, alleging he sexually abused her over two years beginning in 1997 when she was 13 years old.

The civil lawsuit against the Rev. Michael Jerome Keating, a tenured assistant professor of Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, was filed in Ramsey County Monday. Keating went on voluntary leave from his job Sunday and did not return several phone messages and emails from the Associated Press seeking comment.

Photo courtesy University Relations.

Photo courtesy University Relations.

Keating was also the manager of the Catholic studies Rome program and director of the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership.

Keating, who came to the university in 2006, was teaching two classes during the fall 2013 semester- Catholic Studies 101: Search for Happiness and Catholic Studies 321: Modernity in the Church.

A freshman student in one of Keating’s courses said the class was canceled Monday.

While Keating is the only defendant, the lawsuit alleges the woman reported her allegations to leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis including then-Archbishop Harry Flynn and his deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, in 2006 — the same year Keating joined the St. Thomas faculty.

A Chisago County sheriff’s investigator looked into the allegations after the woman’s father filed a complaint in 2006. The investigator interviewed the woman, her parents and Keating, but determined after consulting with an assistant county attorney that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue criminal charges.

The lawsuit comes as the archdiocese is reacting to allegations that top leaders ignored warnings in the last several years about two other priests. Archbishop John Nienstedt last week established a task force to review issues of clergy sexual conduct.

The lawsuit accuses Keating, now 57, of “unpermitted, harmful and offensive sexual contact” with the woman between about 1997 and 2000, when he was a seminary student.

“The archdiocese should have immediately removed him from ministry and turned over what they knew to the authorities,” said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the woman.

The archdiocese found “insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a minor,” according to a letter to an archdiocese official sent the woman in 2007. The same letter spelled out recommendations from a clergy review board, including that the priest should be restricted from activities such as retreats, spiritual counseling or mentoring, “particularly of adolescents or young adults.”

“The Board does not believe that the priest’s faculties should be suspended, given his effectiveness in many areas of his work,” the letter said.

An archdiocese spokesman had no comment on the lawsuit. St. Thomas spokesman Doug Hennes wouldn’t say why Keating went on leave.

The woman is now in her late 20s and living in the Twin Cities, but Anderson said she is keeping her identity a secret. She was motivated to come forward by the recent allegations about church leaders, he said.

Keating was a friend of the woman’s family and frequently spent time at their Chisago County home, Anderson said. He characterized the abuse as second-degree criminal sexual conduct and said it involved touching and other bodily conduct. He said they did not have sexual intercourse.

The lawsuit alleges the woman suffered “severe and permanent emotional distress, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries.” It seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

Briggs LeSavage contributed to this report.

This item was posted in Church Investigations, More News, News and has 21 comments so far.

21 Comments

  1. Caitlin Heaney
    Oct. 14, 2013 12:35 PM

    I know Father Keating to be a man of great integrity and faith.  I sincerely hope that as the details of this case become clearer, everyone has the opportunity to see Father Keating for the amazing man he is.  

  2. Emma Kopp
    Oct. 14, 2013 3:12 PM

    Yes, because sexually abusing a 13 year old girl for four years is really an awesome example of integrity.

  3. Ryan O’Shaughnessy ’12
    Oct. 14, 2013 9:30 PM

    Emma, please note the difference between an “allegation” and a “conviction.”

  4. Matthew Rutherford
    Oct. 15, 2013 12:47 AM

    I’d like to know if the department of Academic Affairs was aware of the allegations made against Keating in 2006, the same year he became employed at the University. 

  5. Kathryn Pogin
    Oct. 15, 2013 8:26 AM

    Kind of stunning that any one would jump in to defend Keating against these kinds of allegations at this time given the circumstances, merely on the basis of “know[ing] him to be a man of great integrity and faith.” And by stunning, I mean completely predictable and totally to be expected, and yet reprehensible nonetheless.   

  6. Katy Vang
    Oct. 15, 2013 2:09 PM

    Caitlin, you do realize that by talking about how great you think Keating is, you are passively trying to discredit a victim of sexual assault? A woman comes forward to talk about how she has suffered, and your first instinct is to insinuate that she’s lying by waxing poetical about how well you “know” the perpetrator. This woman needs all the support she can get because we live in a world where victims of sexual assault are dismissed and humiliated for coming forth, and she does not need someone who clearly knows nothing about the situation rushing to defend her attacker. 

  7. Michael Blissenbach ’09
    Oct. 15, 2013 3:49 PM

    I think we should reserve judgment and let the lawsuit take its course. An allegation, as Mr. O’Shaughnessy stated well, is not a conviction. Maybe the allegations are true, maybe they are not. We’ll know eventually. All we can do right now is pray for Fr. Keating, for the alleged victim, and for all those involved in the litigation.

  8. anne maloney
    Oct. 15, 2013 3:59 PM

    Why bother listening to the evidence at all? Let’s just decide this professor is guilty and fire him, and at the same time, let’s be sure that we destroy his reputation. And if any woman should dare to state simply that she knows this man, and knows him to be a good man, why then let’s pillory her, too! She’s a witch! Let’s burn her!

  9. Caitlin Heaney
    Oct. 15, 2013 5:03 PM

    To Emma: As much as I understand that the facts of this case my turn out to be true, Ryan is right: as of right now, these are allegations that are serious but not determined as true. The justice system still presumes innocence.

    To Kathryn: while your response was sarcastic, I can appreciate what you’re saying. I’d like to point out that I didn’t defend Father Keating, simply gave a personal character assessment of my own interactions with him. If Father Keating assaulted anybody, I will be disgusted. It isn’t reprehensible to acknowledge the known character of a friend until proven otherwise.

    To Katy: IF Father Keating assaulted this girl, I will say “Father Keating assaulted this girl. That is unconscionable and this victim deserves all my support.” And then I will give her all my support. It is witch hunting to assume without evidence that Father Keating assaulted someone until the justice system has its day. And, may I point out, unless you know the victim, YOU know nothing about the situation, so your attack of Father Keating is also unwarranted.

    To all: I HOPE JUSTICE PREVAILS. No matter which side justice is on. IS THAT CLEAR ENOUGH?

  10. Katy Vang
    Oct. 15, 2013 10:34 PM

    Caitlin, this woman needs compassion BEFORE propaganda like yours drags her through the mud. She needs compassion and understanding DURING a trial full of character witnesses like yourself who will be brought forth to call her a liar because the defendant is of good standing within the community. She does not need vocal praise of the defendant mocking her and hinting that you think she’s lying about being a victim of a violent crime. Many victims of sexual assault suffer in silence for their entire lives because of people like you who believe that preserving a man’s reputation is more important than justice being served. If you’re going to say anything at all, make it be compassionate to the victim, alleged or otherwise. No one needs you to help the horrid treatment of assault victims in this country. 

  11. Dylan Wallace
    Oct. 19, 2013 11:24 AM

    I just don’t find your train of thought…convincing, Katy.  I believe Caitlin has clearly stated her position which is that she is in disbelief that this has happened, which given her knowledge of the alleged perpetrator is understandable.  You make it sound like she is attempting to discredit the victim which does not appear to be the case.  

  12. phil lupus
    Oct. 22, 2013 12:19 PM

    if someone wrongfully accused me of sexually harrassing them i know id probably give them a car and help pay off some student loans….

  13. Michael Skiendzielewski
    Oct. 22, 2013 7:30 PM

    “The Board does not believe that the priest’s faculties should be suspended, given his effectiveness in many areas of his work,” the letter said.

    What an outrageous, insensitive, callous, reckless and hurtful statement from the Review Board of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul.  It is incomprehensible that there was not a single professional on the Review Board that did not recognize just how insulting and demeaning (and, of course, illogical) such a statement is to sexual abuse victims, their families and all who suffer from the devastating consequences of being sexually abused and violated by anyone in the position of trust and respect.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain        (Retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept.

  14. James Heaney
    Oct. 25, 2013 1:43 AM

    Katy has made the determination, on her own magisterial authority, that the accuser is telling the truth and that Fr. Keating is lying. I say she has made this determination because the converse possibility does not seem to factor into her math. But just *suppose* Fr. Keating is innocent and the accuser is lying. (Since we know nothing about the situation, this must be equally as possible as that he’s guilty and she’s telling the truth.) Then he deserves our “compassion and support”, and does not deserve people like Katy “hinting that they think he’s lying”. Many victims of false accusations have their reputations ruined because of people like Katy who believe that guaranteeing the comfort of an accuser is more important than seeing that justice is served. 

    Fortunately for all of us who might one day find ourselves in the dock, prejudiced people like Katy are not allowed to serve on juries.

    Katy, if you’re going to say anything, make it be compassionate to *both* the accuser and the man accused — like Caitlin’s comments were. No one needs you to make the horrid treatment of abuse allegations in this country any worse than it already is. The hell of rape and abuse cases is that the innocent party is always deeply wounded by them. We need to do much better at supporting victims of abuse, as we’ve seen in Ohio and Maryville. But we also need to be better at presuming the innocence of the accused.

  15. Thomas Allen
    Oct. 26, 2013 2:14 AM

    Caitlin, no one doubts your sincerity. But the charges and evidence have no relevance to faith or past acts. Your compassion would be better directed to the alleged victim.

  16. Caitlin Heaney
    Oct. 28, 2013 9:17 PM

    “Charges and evidence?” There *is* no evidence other than hearsay. I will give my compassion where I see fit, and I see two people here: one clearly hurting (whether by Father Keating’s hand or not, and *there is no shame* in hoping not) and one who has not uttered one word in his own defense thus far, has not denied or assented to these charges, has not even tried to discredit the woman who has, *rightfully or not*, flayed his good name in the public square. Do I absolutely believe this young woman is not “out for blood,” but truly in pain? YES. But in our justice system, “the burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies.” It is not “propaganda” used to drag her name “through the mud” to use my own first-hand knowledge of the *alleged* perpetrator to help me understand this situation. It is not mocking her or calling her a liar by hoping–no, EXPECTING–others to refrain from dragging this man’s name through the mud before an iota of evidence has been given in court. There is nothing compassionate or, in fact, humane, in blindly turning my judgment and compassion over to unquestioning rage, especially in such tenuous circumstances. My sincerity is not in question here, nor is my compassion. But common sense seems to have been thrown far, far out the window in this case so far.

  17. Paul Piche
    Oct. 29, 2013 6:45 AM

    What has happened to this country? We used to hold that all men are innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. And as Christians haven’t we always been taught to pray for the sinner as well as victims? I agree that sexual abuse of a minor is one of the worst evils conceivable, but it is heinous as well to abandon a man who has proven during his time at St. Thomas to be a man of great faith and an accomplished intellectual by one person’s word alone. Basically, I would encourage all of you to reserve judgment until the trial when evidence is presented which proves Fr. Keating guilty or innocent. Also, I would encourage you never to speak as some of you have to Caitlin ever again.

  18. Paul Milner
    Oct. 29, 2013 9:07 AM

    Doubt is the epistemic position from which we need evidence to be moved. We should no sooner believe the plaintiff then the accused or Caitlin’s word that Keating is a nice guy. I understand that this is a sensitive topic but, as in all things, we need to make sure reason is moving emotion and not the other way around. 

    Also, Hi Kathryn!

  19. Zach Bordeau
    Oct. 29, 2013 10:50 AM

    A combination of Paul Milner, Paul Piche, and Caitlin’s positions must be combined to truly accept the situation as it stands.

    There are two people, human beings, involved in this unfortunate situation. They BOTH deserve compassion, for they have human dignity. That being said, there is NO evidence that has been disclosed on either ‘side’ as Caitlin stated. All we know as readers of the media is what the media wants us to think. It would be naive to say that the media is, or expresses the truth. Main-stream media aims to distort the truth in order to “make the story better”. Paul is also right in saying that reason must be at the heart of this situation, not emotion, regardless of how hard it hits home. We don’t know the whole story, it’s impossible, so let’s refrain from wildly illogical arguments.

    In this situation, we must pray for all those involved, remain slow to judge, listen to our conscience, and await the decision of the authorities.

  20. Kathryn Pogin
    Oct. 29, 2013 8:45 PM

    I think reason tells us that offering equal benefit of the doubt to both parties, where those parties are not in equally vulnerable positions, do not have equal access to institutional protection, nor have equal cause to lie tends to perpetuate the status quo.

    And Caitlin, there is some evidence (e.g., email correspondence, testimony, etc.). 

    Also, hi Paul!

  21. Antrina Peterson
    Oct. 29, 2013 10:34 PM

    This is really sad to see allegations come so close to home. We like to think we live in this bubble where the harms “on-the-news” don’t reach us, and it is always comes as pure shock when we recognize a person or place involved. Instead of the back and forth between us here, take the time to pray for all involved, as well as our St. Thomas community.

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