Monsignor Says He'll Continue to Fight Charge of Sex Abuse

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
December 18, 2003

Msgr. Charles M. Kavanagh, the most prominent New York priest caught up in the clerical sex-abuse scandal, acknowledged yesterday that he had had a close, even affectionate relationship with a teenage seminarian, but adamantly denied that it was sexual.

Speaking out for the first time since the Archdiocese of New York suspended him in May 2002, Monsignor Kavanagh expressed remorse for any hurt he might have caused the seminarian who accused him. But he promised to keep fighting for his reinstatement as a Roman Catholic priest in good standing.

"When I gave my life to the church I didn't promise to be perfect," he said. "I stand at a point in my life now, proud of that and innocent of abuse, and also stand there expecting and having the right to expect the church's loyalty and honor."

Monsignor Kavanagh, 67, was once one of the most influential priests in the archdiocese. He ran its fund-raising campaigns, organized the annual Al Smith political dinner, led a major parish St. Raymond's in the Bronx and even organized Cardinal John J. O'Connor's funeral.

Yesterday, in an interview at the law offices of a supporter, the former State Assemblyman John C. Dearie, the monsignor appeared composed, conveying an air of contrition but also of pride in his priesthood and in the many friends who have come to his support. He said he had passed a lie detector test showing his innocence, and had given the results to the archdiocese.

He wore a black wool sweater with a small hole from a cigar burn over a white turtleneck and dark slacks, an outfit reminiscent of clerical clothes, which he is barred from wearing under his suspension from all public duties as a priest.

He said he had no apologies about what he called an "affectionate" relationship with the young man, Daniel C. Donohue. "We shared our deepest hopes and dreams in terms of vocations and everything else together," the priest said. "I am very conscious of what happens in friendships, and I must have hurt him."

He said his one mistake may have been to be both spiritual adviser and friend.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan suspended Monsignor Kavanagh on the basis of a letter written by Mr. Donohue, who was a student at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, a high school, from 1978 to 1982. Monsignor Kavanagh was rector there at the time. Since the suspension, the monsignor has been waiting for the cardinal to announce whether he will be allowed to return to the ministry or will be permanently banned.

Monsignor Kavanagh would not criticize the cardinal, but expressed frustration at the delay and what he said was the archdiocese's failure to provide information about his case. When asked if he felt he had been treated fairly by the cardinal, he said, "I understand the climate that the church has to deal with."

He promised to fight to the end, and said he was confident he would be exonerated.

His accuser, Mr. Donohue, now 39, grew up in a large, devout family in Westchester and became one of the best and brightest students at the seminary and later at Cathedral College in Douglaston, N.Y. Some former seminarians and priests have rallied to his side.

He has said in interviews that starting when he was about 15, an intense relationship with Monsignor Kavanagh his teacher, rector, spiritual director and confessor became sexually charged and led to an emotional and spiritual crisis in his life. He said the priest held hands in his own lap during prayer, gave him hugs that lasted too long and lay on top of him in a sexual way on at least two occasions.

Monsignor Kavanagh said, "There was no sexual contact between us or the intention, and if he read something more into that, then I'm sorry." He acknowledged that he and Mr. Donohue had hugged and held hands in prayer, but denied lying on top of him or putting the teenager's hand in his lap.

Monsignor Kavanagh said he was breaking his silence because he was celebrating his 40th anniversary as a priest at a large reception on Saturday, and knew he would become the subject of news-media attention. The interview also raised the stakes in his struggle to be reinstated by the cardinal, who is acutely sensitive to publicity.

Mr. Donohue has called on the priest to apologize publicly for his actions. Monsignor Kavanagh said that at the reception he would "express my sorrow for any hurt" he had caused.


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