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.
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.