Accuser Tells Clerical Court of Friendship With Priest
By Andy Newman
New York Times [Erie PA]
November 18, 2006
For four hours yesterday, in a classroom-size space in a church administration building near Erie, Pa., Daniel Donohue told three judges in clerical collars about his high school friendship with a charismatic priest who would become the chief fund-raiser for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
Mr. Donohue, who spoke by phone after testifying, told the panel of judges his version of how that friendship, with Msgr. Charles M. Kavanagh, grew abusive and manipulative, and said the priest twice crossed the line and sexually abused him by lying down with him and rubbing his face and body against him.
Mr. Donohue, 42, is the accusing witness in the church trial of Monsignor Kavanagh, the most prominent priest in the archdiocese named in the sexual abuse scandal and the only priest from the archdiocese who has been granted a canonical trial. Yesterday he was not present.
The trial, Mr. Donohue said, is hardly an ideal process. He was asked to swear an oath of silence, which he refused to do, he told the priests, on the principle that the church's policy of silence is what has allowed priests to abuse young people with impunity for decades. Mr. Donohue chafes against his role as the star witness for the archdiocese, the very institution that he said protected Monsignor Kavanagh for years.
Nevertheless, Mr. Donohue said, the three priests in the tribunal struck him as men of sensitivity. When he turned the tables and asked them about their perspectives on clerical sexual abuse, they offered long, thoughtful answers, he said. And when Mr. Donohue broke down in tears during his testimony, he said, he saw the priests' eyes well up, too.
"These men fully appreciated not just my story, but the opportunity to create a place of integrity between us," Mr. Donohue said.
Secrecy has abounded at the trial. The Vatican moved it from New York at the request of the archdiocese, which said it feared a media circus. No reporters are allowed at canonical tribunals, and the New York Archdiocese has refused to comment on the trial.
Mr. Donohue's sister Patricia Donohue testified on Thursday, and she said that when she refused to promise not to discuss the case outside the tribunal, the chief judge, who identified himself only as Father Mark, told her that her refusal would be referred to the Vatican for possible "disciplinary action."
A spokesman for the Erie Diocese, Msgr. Thomas J. McSweeney, said, "I am certain that no one was threatened with any penalty during the process in Erie, Pennsylvania."
Mr. Donohue said that when he refused to take the oath of silence yesterday, Father Mark simply noted it for the record.
"They asked me to take the oath of truth with my hand on the Bible, too," Mr. Donohue said. "I asked if it would be O.K. if I put my hand on my heart instead, and they said fine."
Monsignor Kavanagh was the rector of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan in the late 1970s, when Mr. Donohue was a student there, an accomplished athlete and a devout candidate for the seminary. Both men said their friendship grew intense and progressed to hand-holding and hugs, but Monsignor Kavanagh, now 69, denies there was any sexual component.
Mr. Donohue, who is married with four children and manages a restaurant in Portland, Ore., told his story to a church tribunal — the archdiocese's own review panel — once before, in 2003. That panel found Monsignor Kavanagh guilty of sexual abuse, setting off the appeal process that led the Vatican to grant him this latest trial.
In some ways, this time was easier, Mr. Donohue said. In others, it was not. In recounting a night on a couch when, he said, Monsignor Kavanagh lay atop him and rubbed his face and lips against his, Mr. Donohue said that details of the encounter came back to him for the first time and overwhelmed him.
"I cried for minutes," he said. "And after this emotional moment — and this demonstrates to me that Father Mark had been through this before, he said to me, 'Daniel, are you with us, or are you still there?' " meaning back in the past. "I said, 'I'm still there,' and he said to take a little more time."
For hours, Father Mark asked Mr. Donohue a series of questions, some submitted by the canon lawyers for the two sides, some devised by the judges themselves.
The session drew to a close. Father Mark had mentioned earlier that he thought the abuse scandal was a cross the Catholic Church needed to carry for as long as it took, Mr. Donohue said. Mr. Donohue, in closing, agreed. He said that the former head of discipline for the church, now Pope Benedict XVI, needed to carry the cross himself, feel its splinters on his spine, feel its crushing weight.
Father Mark listened, Mr. Donohue said. "Then they shook my hand, and we went on our way."
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