Edward McKeown, Franklin Richards

By Laura Frank
The Tennessean
July 4, 1999

In Roman Catholic Mass ceremonies across Nashville today, church leaders are responding to outcry over how the church handled reports of two pedophile priests.

Bishop Edward Kmiec prepared a statement to be read at Mass this morning for the first time acknowledging church leaders had received allegations in the mid-1980s that then-priests Edward J. McKeown and Franklin T. Richards sexually abused children.

The bishop asked forgiveness for what the priests did. He said that when church leaders found out about the allegations, they "sought to respond promptly and properly according to the standards of that time."

In his statement, Kmiec did not address whether the church failed to report McKeown to authorities, as the law required. There is no evidence McKeown was ever reported, although some church officials believe it was done. Kmiec did say, however, that the church sent McKeown to treatment, which is what state authorities recommended for Richards when the diocese reported abuse allegations against him the year before.

"In hindsight, perhaps there was more that could have been done," said Nashville Diocese attorney Gino Marchetti, who advised church leaders on both cases. "But we relied on the best information we could get with the primary concern being preventing them (the priests) from acting out again."

Two pedophiles in the trusted position of priest used their posts to sexually abuse children. Then, somehow, both slipped quietly into society 13 years ago. The emerging picture of how that happened is based on information the church is releasing for the first time and interviews with church leaders, prosecutors and the priests' victims.

Records from the church show officials received allegations in March 1985 that Richards sexually abused three boys from Knoxville Catholic High School. Records from the state Department of Human Services show that agency received a referral concerning Richards in October of that year and closed its case in January 1986.

Some church officials say they believe McKeown also was reported to state authorities, as required by law, although neither church nor state records show any evidence this was done.

The Nashville diocese did send both priests for treatment. But on the same day in 1989, both priests left the active ministry and any watchful eye church leaders might have kept on them. Until McKeown was arrested in January, both lived new lives with their past secrets well hidden.

McKeown, sentenced to 25 years last month for raping a 12-year-old boy in 1995, told police he molested 21 kids over two decades. Eight of them, he said, were abused after he admitted his pedophilia to church leaders. Church leaders said they were unaware of the continued abuse.

Richards has never been charged with a crime, but diocese officials, prosecutors and an attorney for his victims say he admitted raping three boys at Knoxville Catholic High School in 1984. Richards who now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla. declined to comment on the diocese's revelations.

Diocese officials say they now, for the first time, are talking about the allegations against the two priests in an attempt to reach out to the victims and the community.

"(I)t is not enough merely to say that we have carefully followed our policy...," Bishop Kmiec wrote in his statement to be read at Mass this morning. "We must also ask forgiveness in the name of the Church for the evil perpetrated by some of its priests, and ask God to heal all those harmed by such deviant behavior most especially the victims and their families, those scandalized by it, and you, the people of our church and faith communities."

The bishop also wrote that the diocese "extended its offer of help in many forms to the victims and their families."

But two Nashville men who say they were abused by both McKeown and Richards dispute this.

"They say they've reached out, but they're not reaching out," said a 43-year-old Father Ryan High School graduate. The Tennessean does not name victims of sex abuse without their consent. "They make these statements, but I was told almost a month ago that I could meet with the bishop and I haven't heard a thing."

The other man, a 39-year-old Father Ryan graduate, said he did meet with the bishop to discuss the abuse, but "it was like pulling teeth. He didn't offer any treatment until I asked."

The bishop could not be reached to respond. However, the bishop's statement this morning offers counseling to any victims "known or unknown to us."

The stories of what McKeown and Richards did are nearly mirror images. What eventually happened to each was very different, however.

Richards and McKeown both grew up in Nashville. Both graduated from Father Ryan, where each later taught.

In 1984, when Richards was principal of Knoxville Catholic High School, he sexually abused three boys there. The boys' parents complained to the diocese. Diocese officials say they confronted Richards and he admitted the abuse, which they reported to the state Department of Human Services, as the law required.

However, state officials apparently never told police about the allegations against Richards. No one can explain why.

"I have no idea what happened," said James R. (Randy) Griggs, assistant commissioner of the state Department of Children's Services, the agency that took over from Human Services. Documents concerning Richards were destroyed in 1991. That should only have happened if the charges were unfounded, Griggs said. But Richards admitted to the allegations, said Marchetti, the diocese attorney.

Diocese officials say they told state authorities everything about the allegations against Richards. If so, then those authorities should have told police, Griggs said. Perhaps the diocese didn't reveal everything about the allegations, he suggested. Not so, said Marchetti: "We told them everything." And besides, he added, it was the state's job to investigate.

As evidence the state knew the extent of the allegations, Marchetti pointed out that a Human Services official recommended Richards' treatment.

Perhaps the parents didn't want to pursue charges, Marchetti suggested, pointing out that one victim's parents requested that Richards remain principal until the end of the school year to avoid casting suspicion on their son. And Elizabeth Ann Rowland, one of the lawyers then representing Richards' Knoxville victims in an undisclosed financial settlement, said some of the parents didn't want to file a lawsuit against Richards then because of the publicity it would bring.

Possibly the state yielded to the parents' reluctance, Griggs said. "That's been a problem in the past. There's something missing out of all this. We're at our wit's end as to what happened."

Marchetti said he didn't find it odd that police never pursued charges against Richards. He never inquired as to why. Richards will not be charged now because the eight-year statute of limitations has expired, prosecutors said.

In July 1985, the bishop brought Richards back to Nashville and named him associate pastor at Christ the King church. The diocese lent him $10,000 to help pay the settlement to his three victims. He was not to have contact with children. His office door was to be opened at all times. He was to continue seeing a therapist of his choosing for counseling on an outpatient basis.

"We were following the directions DHS gave us," Marchetti said.

Marchetti said he didn't know why Richards was removed from Christ the King and sent to Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville in 1988. Nor did he know if anyone warned the Clarksville parish about Richards' past.

Katie Hogan, who was director of religious education during Richards' assignment in Clarksville, said she and her family would "trust our lives with him."

When asked if she thought the church should have been notified that he was receiving professional help for the sexual abuse, Hogan said it would not have made a difference to her. "I don't think it's anyone else's business to know what he did, because he was getting treatment and wasn't working with children," she said.

Another parishioner, church office manager for 32 years, Sara Ellis worked with Richards and said he had become a personal friend. "I was with him at work and socially when there was a crisis and when fun was going on. When I first heard about it I was shocked. We were not aware of any of this," Ellis said. "He was a very compassionate man."

The Rev. Eric Fowlkes, senior pastor at Clarksville's only Catholic church, said he sees the recent allegations as a terrible tragedy. "A lot of the current policies and procedures we have in place now we did not have at the time," said Fowlkes.

It was while in Clarksville that Richards suddenly resigned from active priesthood on March 1, 1989. Diocese officials said they do not know why, but received no other complaints of abuse against him.

On the same day, McKeown also resigned. In contrast, McKeown was clearly asked to leave, officials said.

The other details of McKeown's fall are not so clear, however.

While prosecutors say McKeown was never reported to authorities, as the law requires, neither Marchetti nor the then-Bishop James D. Niedergeses is conceding that point. They say they believe someone at the diocese reported McKeown, as required by law. However, police have no record of a report. Neither do state Children's Services officials. Church documents concerning allegations against McKeown show no evidence he was ever reported. No one at the diocese could provide the name of an official who remembered reporting him or an approximate date he might have been reported.

"I still believe that it was done," Marchetti said. "But I can't in good conscience say absolutely, positively, we're sure."

Assistant District Attorney Helen Donnelly said that when she was investigating potential criminal action against diocese officials for not reporting McKeown, those officials did not claim that McKeown had been reported to authorities.

"If they're saying this now, I'd like to know why they didn't say this before," Donnelly said.

Marchetti's response: "I don't know."

Donnelly said she did not pursue the diocese investigation because the statute of limitations would have expired, precluding prosecution.

The first allegation against McKeown came to the diocese in July 1986, brought by a mother who said McKeown had sexually abused her son 14 years earlier.

"The mother didn't want anything to happen," Marchetti said. "She just didn't want (McKeown) to be around any more kids. The bishop called him in and he confessed."

McKeown was sent to six months of inpatient treatment in Connecticut, then given a desk job away from children and sent to live at St. Ignatius rectory in Antioch. It was there he got into trouble again.

At a Christmas party in 1988, McKeown gave a schoolboy a present. In front of his parents and others at the party, the boy unwrapped the gift to find McKeown had given him a condom.

"We said well, this is it," Marchetti said. "We talked to the psychiatrist, the whole nine yards. It showed us his treatment wasn't having the desired effect."

Marchetti said no one in the diocese knew what McKeown later admitted to police: He had continued to sexually abuse boys after treatment.

"I asked him, "Is there anybody else?' " Marchetti said. "The answer was no."

Church officials said they were never aware McKeown had a job in the Metro Juvenile Court after leaving the priesthood, although the diocese ended the $1,300 stipend he was paid when he informed them of his other job as a Metro property assessor. Marchetti said the stipend is required by the laws of the Catholic church. Nor did church leaders know McKeown was given custody of a troubled boy last year. It was that boy whom McKeown pleaded guilty to raping.

Diocese officials said there have been no other complaints of child sex abuse against any priest in the diocese. The prosecutor found no substantiated allegations against a third former Nashville priest, who was not named in the investigation. Church leaders said a screening program that asks clergy and lay workers if they have ever abused a child helps ensure nothing like this would happen again.

Now, they said, any such allegation would be reported immediately to police and prosecutors.

"For something like this to have happened, possibly there should have been more that should have, could have, would have been done," Marchetti said. "What it is, I don't know."

BISHOP'S STATEMENTBrothers and Sisters in Christ:

Since December of 1992, I have been your pastor and shepherd. I have a responsibility to share not only good news, but also bad news affecting our community of faith. It was with great sadness that we read a front-page story in last Sunday's Tennessean newspaper. This story, which has caused great pain in our community, alleged under a misleading headline that the Diocese of Nashville received numerous reports regarding a former priest recently sentenced for child molestation. This is simply not true.

Child molestation is a human tragedy of great magnitude, for which we are all sorrowful and to which the Diocese sought to respond promptly and properly according to the standards of that time. The Diocese seeks to reach out with help both privately and publicly, in the way of counseling to any victims of abuse who have been brought to our attention.

Until recently the following information was part of the investigation conducted by the District Attorney's Office, an investigation with which the Diocese cooperated completely and fully. The investigation focused on three former priests, two of whom have not resided within the Diocese for some years. This full cooperation included our requesting meetings, which were held with the District Attorney's Office offering the Diocese's full and complete cooperation in their investigation. Due to our need to respect the privacy rights of the accused, we requested and accepted grand jury subpoenas for the complete files of any individual being investigated by the District Attorney's Office, even though the former priests had not been in active ministry within the Diocese for over ten years. After the recent conviction, we personally met again with the representatives of the District Attorney's office.

Those files revealed that in 1986 the then Bishop of Nashville received one report of an incident involving Edward McKeown, which occurred in 1971. McKeown was immediately contacted and confirmed the truth of this allegation and was removed from his assignment in East Tennessee and referred to a premier medical institute for treatment. After many months of treatment, during which McKeown received very favorable evaluations by medical experts, he returned to the Diocese under a strict treatment and monitoring regimen. Pursuant to the recommendations of the psychiatrists, he was assigned to an administrative position at the Chancery office where he had no direct or unsupervised contact with youth. He has not been assigned to the Father Ryan High School campus in over 25 years.

In 1988, having received a second report of inappropriate activity, the Diocese permanently removed McKeown from active priestly ministry. In accordance with the law of the Catholic Church and in order to continue the strict treatment and monitoring regimen, a judgment was made at that time to provide funds for medical, food, clothing, and housing needs. These are the only two reports the Diocese ever received regarding misconduct by McKeown.

The District Attorney's Office confirmed that at no time did the Diocese receive reports of any other victims or incidents regarding McKeown. We were shocked to learn that, during the investigation, McKeown admitted violating so many individuals.

At about the same time that the Diocese received the initial report on McKeown, it also received a separate report involving another former priest, Frank Richards. This was immediately made known to the Department of Human Services, who set forth rules and guidelines for the out-patient treatment and monitoring of Richards. The Diocese followed these recommendations and those of medical experts and implemented the same guidelines in dealing with McKeown. There were no allegations of misconduct during Richards' treatment which continued until he left the priesthood in 1989. As with McKeown, the diocese provided Richards with temporary financial support.

The District Attorney's investigation of the third former priest found no evidence of criminal sexual activity. The District Attorney's Office has confirmed that there are no priests of the Diocese of Nashville currently under investigation for child sexual abuse, nor are there any reports of such activity against any priest now working in our Diocese.

In both cases, the Diocese extended its offer of help in many forms to the victims and their families, both temporal and spiritual. Even in past cases where the statute of limitations has expired, as a pastoral outreach, we feel a responsibility and an obligation to assist victims and their families in the process of unresolved healing and restoration to wellness. To achieve this, we humbly invite those known or unknown to us to accept our offer for counseling to help them on their path of recovery and wholeness. Victims of child abuse should not be reluctant to come forward, and they are deserving of our help and compassion.

The Diocese will not tolerate abuse by anyone, including members of the clergy. Children are God's sacred gifts to us; it is our obligation to protect and nurture them. As more information regarding child sexual abuse has been developed over the years, the Diocese has adopted strict policies and screening procedures including background checks of anyone associated with the Diocese clergy, teachers, coaches, and volunteers having direct and sustained contact with our young people. We want people to report any child sexual abuse to the police and the District Attorney's Office for appropriate and immediate action.

While the Diocese, in the past and certainly with greater clarity in the present, seeks to adhere to the reporting requirements of law and follow our policy for a timely response in all cases of child sexual abuse, it is not enough merely to say that we have followed our policy no matter how thorough. We can never do enough to alleviate fully the harm and hurt done to victims. We must also ask forgiveness in the name of the Church for the evil perpetrated by some of its priests, and ask God to heal all those harmed by such deviant behavior most especially the victims and their families, those scandalized by it, and you, the people of our Church and faith communities.

Let us also remember to pray for and support the overwhelming number of faithful and virtuous priests who have labored among us in the past and who do so now with dedication and fidelity, whose ministry has suffered so much harm in these sad circumstances. May their great and good works in behalf of our Lord and His people not be diminished by the inappropriate actions of a few.

I request your kind prayers and loving support, and I pledge my continued prayers for you. Let us ask God to strengthen our faith and to secure our hope.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Edward U. Kmiec

Bishop of Nashville


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