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  Behind Bars and Behind the Bar

By Dan Moffett
Palm Beach Post [Palm Beach FL]
April 27, 2003

Pedophile priests have a way of turning up most anywhere after they leave the church, but usually it isn't in prison.

They are masters at reinvention. Many shed their collars and begin careers as researchers, bookkeepers and counselors. Or, in the case of Franklin T. Richards, a restaurateur.

Fifteen years ago, Frank Richards was a Catholic priest in the diocese of Nashville, Tenn., who rose to become principal of Knoxville Catholic High School. He and another priest, Edward J. McKeown, have confessed to sexually molesting dozens of young boys during the 1980s. Richards told Nashville police four years ago that he and McKeown took students to a farm, owned by Richards' family, where the priests would sodomize and sexually assault them. Richards said he had molested 25 boys. McKeown has admitted to molesting and raping at least 22.

Both have left the priesthood and are in very different places.

McKeown, 58, is serving a 25-year prison sentence in Tennessee. Richards, 56, is starting a new business venture as the co-owner of the Forum Bar and Grille in the Forum Place in West Palm Beach. He intends to make the restaurant a "gathering place of distinction for the gay community" and hopes to attract an upscale clientele with a black marble bar, bistro menu and pianist.

Why do pedophiles who share the same victims and commit the same crimes, who even leave the priesthood the same day -- March 1, 1989 -- have such different outcomes? Two reasons: the complicity of the Catholic Church in concealing their offenses and the inadequacy of statutes of limitations for prosecuting them.

Though Richards admits his many crimes -- some against boys as young as 14 -- the statute of limitations in Tennessee is eight years. None of the victims came forward in time for prosecutors to make a case, and church officials did not tell law enforcement. In 1999, two Nashville detectives interviewed Richards at his home in the Flamingo Park neighborhood of West Palm Beach. The three-hour confession, however, is useless to prosecutors because the eight-year window has closed. Richards was forthcoming because he understood this.

McKeown made the mistake of raping and molesting four more boys in the 1990s, one of them 12 years old, while working at a juvenile court. A mother found out and called police. Authorities fitted one of the boys with a recording wire and got McKeown to admit the assaults. Since they fell within the eight-year limit, prosecutors could make a case and get convictions.

Richards moved to Florida a decade ago and worked for several years with the Palm Beach County Health Department as an administrative assistant in the environmental division. The background checks the department ran came back clean, though his trail of damage was long. Psychological problems have followed the priests' victims into adulthood. Some have battled alcoholism and depression. When news of McKeown's trial broke, police were inundated with calls from men the two had abused.

"We've had more phone calls than we can count," Nashville police Detective David Zaccola said. "From as far away as Maryland -- just all over the country."

In his interview with police, Richards said he received treatment for pedophilia and no longer has the desire to have relations with boys because he is able to live a gay lifestyle outside the church. It was a convenient and disingenuous cover story that should offend gay people. Attributing pedophilia to homosexuality is like blaming the paint can for the graffiti. Most pedophilia is heterosexual. Crimes against children are crimes against children and not the property of sexual orientation.

Today, Richards sells Forum Burgers at his bar for $6.95, while McKeown lives out his life behind bars. In Tallahassee, some legislators are trying to change Florida law to eliminate the four-year statute of limitation for young victims of sexual abuse so they have a fair chance to confront their assailants as adults. Other states have done this.

Richards told police that the church paid settlements to victims' families to keep them quiet. Court records released last year, reported in The Nashville Tennessean, show that church officials covered for the two priests, and repeatedly transferred them to assignments working with children.

In 1988, a new Knoxville diocese was formed, and the new bishop began hearing the grim stories about Richards and McKeown. Authorities remained in the dark. "It gives me a lot of concern that law enforcement never got involved," Detective Zaccola said. "We never knew."

In 1999, the Knoxville bishop was transferred to Palm Beach County to deal with the church's pedophilia scandal in this diocese. In Bishop Anthony O'Connell's third year, three former students came forward and told how he molested them. O'Connell resigned in disgrace and left Florida.
 
 
 

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