Woman Files Sexual Abuse Lawsuit against St. Thomas Priest and Professor
By Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
October 14, 2013
|The Rev. Michael Keating gave a talk in March 2013 as part of the archdiocese's Rediscover speaker series called "Living in Communion with God." (YouTube)|
A Minnesota woman filed a lawsuit today accusing the Rev. Michael Keating, a popular professor at the University of St. Thomas, of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager and he was studying to become a priest in the late 1990s.
Keating was in his 40s at the time. The woman told MPR News that her family reported the abuse to Archbishop Harry Flynn in 2006 but an internal review determined there wasn't sufficient evidence to remove Keating from ministry. Instead of providing comfort, she said, church officials repeatedly questioned her for details and determined it wasn't abuse.
"It felt like a betrayal times two," she said. "First time, I'm betrayed by Keating, and then I'm betrayed by the archdiocese."
The woman, who is not named in the lawsuit, spoke to MPR News and a reporter from another news organization on the condition of anonymity. The complaint, filed by attorney Jeff Anderson in Ramsey County, alleges Keating "engaged in multiple instances of unpermitted, harmful, and offensive sexual contact" from 1997 to 2000 while he was a student. Keating's LinkedIn profile said he went to study in Rome in 1999. The school did not immediately respond to a request for enrollment and graduation dates.
Anderson, at a news conference at his St. Paul law firm Monday, said the Keating case is another example of the archdiocese failing to protect children from sexual abuse. "It's really about continued secrecy," he said. "It's a theme and a message that've rolled off my lips so many times that it sounds glib and it's not."
He called on authorities to convene a grand jury investigation to examine the archdiocese's response to clergy sexual abuse accusations.
• Twin Cities Archdiocese under scrutiny
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis told priests over the weekend that Keating is taking a leave of absence. In a memo, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche characterized the leave as temporary and voluntary. "Father Keating will not be exercising public priestly ministry" while on leave, he wrote.
Spokesmen for the archdiocese and the University of St. Thomas wouldn't say why Keating is on leave. Doug Hennes, St. Thomas' vice president for university and government relations, said Sunday that Keating's classes would be assigned to someone else. He didn't know when Keating might return.
On Monday, Jim Winterer, a spokesman for the University of St. Thomas, said he didn't know if the archdiocese had informed the university at the time of the initial allegations and he would try to determine what communication, if any, took place. He said no one in the communications department was aware of the abuse claims against Keating until today.
Keating, 57, did not respond to interview requests. A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to discuss the case and said he didn't know if Keating had an attorney — and was unable to arrange an interview.
Anderson's law firm was unable to find Keating over the weekend. On Saturday, Patrick Wall, the firm's lead researcher, served the summons on another priest who lives at the same residence. The priest threw the papers on the ground, Anderson said.
The Chisago County Sheriff's Office investigated allegations against Keating in 2006 and closed the case without criminal charges. The incident report said then-vicar general Rev. Kevin McDonough and church lawyer Andrew Eisenzimmer had told the woman's family to contact police.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also conducted its own investigation.
Internal reviewers on the archdiocese's clergy review board recommended that Keating be restricted from mentoring teenagers and young adults; receive "coaching with an industrial psychologist"; and submit to supervision by someone "with sufficient ecclesiastical seniority and authority," according to a 2007 letter from the archdiocese to one of the woman's family members.
The clergy review board also said the recommendations should be shared with the priest's supervisors, according to the letter. No one from the archdiocese was made available to explain why restrictions were placed on Keating if there was no finding of misconduct.
The laws of the Roman Catholic Church require a bishop to open a preliminary investigation into allegations of clergy sexual abuse of a minor and report the findings to the Vatican.
The latest allegations come as Archbishop John Nienstedt, who replaced Archbishop Harry Flynn in 2008, faces questions about his handling of other claims of clergy sexual abuse. "Our standard is zero tolerance for child abuse by priests and absolute accountability," Nienstedt wrote in a Sept. 27 letter to parishioners after an MPR News investigation showed the archbishop and other top church officials declined to warn parishioners of a priest's sexual misconduct. That priest, the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, is now in prison for sexually abusing two children and possessing child pornography.
A subsequent MPR News investigation found the archdiocese failed to inform police about "borderline illegal" pornography found on another priest's computer in 2004. A whistleblower turned over the pornography this year, and police reopened the investigation this month.
In response, Nienstedt announced the creation of a special task force, led by the Rev. Reginald Whitt, to review the archdiocese's procedures for handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse. The archdiocese has created other task forces in the past, and church law already dictates how dioceses should handle allegations.
The task force operates separately from the clergy review board. Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the clergy review board has eight members, including a priest, a lawyer and two medical doctors, among others. Whitt has been appointed to observe the proceedings to ensure the group follows canon law, Accurso said.
Keating was ordained a priest at age 46 in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2002. He serves as associate professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, manager of the school's Rome program and director of the Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership. Keating was appointed last year to the board of trustees of the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D. He graduated from the University of Michigan and received a doctorate in intellectual history from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree in theology from a school in Rome, according to the university's website.
He's also a well-known speaker around the Twin Cities. He has given several lectures in recent weeks as part of the archdiocese's Rediscover program, which aims to reconnect Catholics with their faith. His most recent came on Oct. 3 at Pax Christi Catholic Church in Eden Prairie, which addressed the topic of "Living in Communion with God," according to the archdiocese's website.
Keating's earlier lectures include a February 2011 speech called "Chastity: Attaining Noble Masculinity," delivered at St. Helena Catholic Church in Minneapolis, according to a church bulletin.
Allegations of abuse
Keating was a family friend and frequent guest at Sunday dinner, the woman who is suing him told MPR News.
She said the abuse took place at her family's home when she was 13 to 15 years old, sometimes while Keating read books to her on the couch after dinner. She remembers that one book, "The Chronicles of Narnia," was so large that Keating could touch her while reading it and no one would notice. "I would be abused behind the book, behind Narnia," she said.
Keating also rubbed against her in a sexual way, she said, and touched her inappropriately.
She said that when Keating left to attend school in Rome, he kissed her on the lips to say goodbye. It was her first kiss.
Keating's alleged advances left her confused, she said. "I remember thinking I must be perverted for thinking this is wrong," she said.
It wasn't until college that she realized that Keating's behavior wasn't her fault, she said.
The realization came in a sociology class. The topic was sexual abuse. She read a few lines in the textbook and then walked out of class. "I realized that was me," she said. "It was haunting."
She told some of her family what happened. She saw Keating again when she was 19 and told him, "I believe that you touched me inappropriately when I was a girl," she said. She said Keating denied it.
Back at college her sophomore year, everything unraveled.
She couldn't make sense of what happened, she said. Flashbacks left her terrified to leave her dorm room. Sometimes, she would hide under her desk. "I was just falling apart," she said.
She said her body didn't seem real. "Anywhere he had touched me, I lost my feeling," she said.
She left college in December 2004 because of her psychological symptoms, she said. In January of 2006, she lined up her pills and thought of suicide. "I felt like I wanted to be with Jesus, somewhere where someone really loved me. I just wanted the pain to be done."
What happened next was an act of God, she said. A neighbor came by to check on her and urged her to call her family. She agreed to be hospitalized on a psychiatric unit for 10 days. "It was such a healing experience," she said.
Her family alerted the archdiocese in 2006. She was assigned an advocate named Greta Sawyer, from the archdiocese's advocacy and victim assistance office, to guide her through the church's process for handling allegations of sexual abuse.
Before the case went before the clergy review board, Sawyer and other church officials asked her to tell her story over and over again, she said. At first, she agreed, but it soon became overwhelming, she said. "For me to just say I was abused by Michael Keating wasn't enough," she said.
She decided to make video for the archdiocese so she wouldn't have to keep telling her story.
At a meeting in the chancery — the headquarters of the archdiocese — in June 2006, she said, Keating watched the video with her family, Flynn, McDonough, Eisenzimmer and Sawyer, she said.
"I'm not sure what the point of the meeting was," she said.
Sawyer, the victims' advocate, told her that the clergy review board would investigate her claims and determine whether she had been abused. The woman, then in her early 20s, was called to testify before the board. Sawyer allowed her to bring one family member for support.
The review board included at least one priest, a psychologist, and an architect, among others, she said. It didn't make sense, she thought.
Board members lobbed questions as though it were a game of pinball, she said.
No detail escaped scrutiny. Someone asked whether Keating's penis was erect when he touched her. "I was like, does it matter?" she said.
She left the review board meeting with a familiar, terrible ache. "I felt like I was traumatized again by that," she said. "I just felt numb."
A few months later, the clergy review board reached its conclusion. Keating didn't do it.
"Based on the record as a whole, the Board finds that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a minor in violation of the Charter," Sawyer, the advocate, explained in a letter to the woman's family member.
Sawyer added a statement from Eisenzimmer, the archdiocese's attorney, which said the information should be kept private. "The summary may be used only to aid in your understanding of the contents and for no other purpose unless authorized by me," he wrote.
The woman, who remains Catholic, said she is filing the lawsuit because she doesn't want anyone else to be abused. "I feel that it's my responsibility to say something to break the silence," she said.