Former Church Official Disputes Archbishop's Clergy Abuse Testimony
By Madeleine Baran
Minnesota Public Radio
April 24, 2014
In a deposition earlier this month, a longtime official for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis disputed Archbishop John Nienstedt's sworn testimony on the clergy abuse scandal.
Nienstedt had testified April 2 that the Rev. Kevin McDonough told him not to write down sensitive information about abusive priests because the information could become public in a lawsuit. Nienstedt also said McDonough provided vague information on past cases and led him to believe that the archdiocese was safe for children.
Nienstedt deposition: "Were you concerned, Archbishop, that we shouldn't make some recording...?" | Read the transcript
Two weeks after the archbishop's deposition, McDonough denied telling Nienstedt not to write down sensitive information. In a transcript released by the archdiocese Thursday, he said the description of the conversation wasn't plausible. "He and I would have never been in a position for much casual conversation," McDonough said. "Archbishop Nienstedt managed largely by memo."
McDonough deposition: "If he did in fact characterize things... the way you've said them, I think he's wrong" | Read the transcript
In a news conference held Thursday to discuss McDonough's deposition, attorney Mike Finnegan asserted that "Countless children were put at risk in the 25 years that he was one of the top officials."
McDonough served as vicar general for Archbishops John Roach and Harry Flynn and carried out their orders on clergy sexual abuse cases for 17 years. Under Nienstedt, McDonough oversaw the archdiocese's abuse prevention programs until September 2013. For nearly three decades, he assured parishioners in dozens of interviews and personal conversations that the archdiocese was a national leader in fighting abuse.
However, an MPR News investigation last year found that McDonough helped both archbishops cover up clergy sexual abuse and failed to report some alleged sex crimes to police. It found McDonough advised against notifying parish employees of sexual misconduct by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, a priest now in prison for sexually abusing two boys and possessing child pornography. He also advised against reporting possible child pornography found on another priest's computer, arguing that the images of children were not sexually explicit.
Former Chancellor for Canonical Affairs Jennifer Haselberger, who resigned last year in protest of the archdiocese's handling of clergy sexual abuse, disclosed the actions of McDonough and other top officials in extensive interviews with MPR News.
After MPR News reported the revelations, McDonough resigned from the University of St. Thomas' board of trustees and stopped granting interviews. He also refused to talk to St. Paul police about his handling of clergy abuse cases or to a task force commissioned by Nienstedt to review the archdiocese's policies.
The deposition is part of a lawsuit filed by a man who says he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The man alleged the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on accused priests secret. The man's attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, argued that the deposition could provide evidence of a pattern of deception by the archdiocese.
At the deposition, McDonough appeared relaxed and smiled as he answered some questions. He portrayed himself as a pastor who tried his best to minister to victims and worked to reduce the risk that priests would sexually abuse children. "Any time a kid is hurt, my heart's broken," he said. He maintained that the archdiocese has done a better job than other dioceses and public school districts in handling child sexual abuse.
"I don't believe there's ever been a cover-up," he said.
However, McDonough said that every priest removed under a "zero tolerance" policy adopted in 2002 received "transitional assistance" payments. In some cases, he said, offending priests received more money than priests who had not abused children.
In an interview with MPR News in September about his involvement in the Wehmeyer case, McDonough defended his recommendation not to warn parish employees and said he didn't think that Wehmeyer would harm children. McDonough reiterated that view under oath on April 16.
He said he thought that Wehmeyer was struggling because of a sexual attraction to men. "What was quite apparent to me was this was a man with some form of internal conflict ... So I did not view this fundamentally as a misconduct issue, but as an adjustment issue," McDonough testified.
"Did you feel a sense of dread and fear that you and others had really blown it?" asked Anderson, the alleged victim's attorney.
"I did not, no," McDonough said.
Anderson also grilled McDonough about his actions after the archdiocese learned in June 2012 of allegations that Wehmeyer sexually abused a child. Police reports and internal documents suggest that several top church officials failed to report the allegations within 24 hours as required by law.
Police records show that after the archdiocese received the allegations, McDonough and Deacon John Vomastek, a former St. Paul police officer, confronted Wehmeyer at his parish before police were able to question him. McDonough took Wehmeyer's gun and his computer and ordered him to leave, according to a police report.
In the deposition, McDonough characterized himself as a reluctant participant in the confrontation. He said he objected to talking to Wehmeyer before police arrived. He said several senior officials assured him that the archdiocese had already reported the allegations to police.
"That was not good enough for me," McDonough said. "So I asked Deacon Vomastek, who's himself a retired St. Paul police officer, to ensure that the assurances I had from my colleagues were, in fact, accurate."
McDonough said that Vomastek called a police officer while he and McDonough drove to the parish to confront Wehmeyer and was assured that police had already been contacted. He said he doesn't know the name of the officer or what was said.
McDonough said Wehmeyer told him, "I guess I'm in trouble, aren't I?" He said he couldn't recall whether he asked Wehmeyer if he abused a child but offered to drive him to a police station to provide a statement.
He acknowledged that he took Wehmeyer's gun and computer and "suggested it would be better if he not stay around."
McDonough also defended his handling of the case involving alleged child pornography possessed by the Rev. Jonathan Shelley. He acknowledged that the archdiocese hired a private investigator several years ago who asked a forensic expert to review the images found on Shelley's computer, but said he couldn't remember whether he read the investigator's report.
However, he said he believed that it found the images were of adults, not children.
McDonough acknowledged that he reviewed the images in 2012 at the request of Haselberger, the chancellor at the time. Haselberger was alarmed when she viewed the material and believed that some of the sexually explicit images appeared to involve children. She contacted law enforcement last year over the objections of senior officials.
McDonough said he disagreed with Haselberger's assessment of the images and felt that Nienstedt had erred in following Haselberger's advice to provide a preliminary report to the Vatican. He said he drafted a letter to the Vatican in about January 2013 saying that the archdiocese had been mistaken.
McDonough said he knew that Shelley had lived with a young man during the time he allegedly looked at Internet pornography. He said he didn't ask Shelley whether he had sex with the man. Documents obtained by MPR News indicate that the man was 18 years old. McDonough testified that he wasn't sure if he knew the man's exact age at the time.
"I did not ask [Shelley] about sexual contact," McDonough said. "He offered some particular excuse, which I don't recall, for why he welcomed the young man into his home."
"Don't answer the question"
Anderson also asked McDonough about his recent contact with law enforcement. St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith has publicly criticized McDonough for refusing to talk to police conducting criminal investigations of the clergy abuse scandal.
McDonough acknowledged receiving a letter from two St. Paul police officers several months ago. He said he gave it to his lawyer and couldn't remember whether he read it.
"Why didn't you speak to them?" Anderson asked.
McDonough's attorney interjected: "Don't answer that."
McDonough continued to reply. "I asked — "
His attorney interrupted again. "Don't answer the question," he said.
Anderson continued to press McDonough for an answer.
"Have you ever reached out to [police] to provide them information?" he asked.
"No," McDonough replied.
"I don't see what would be appropriate about that."
"You don't want them to know what you know?" Anderson asked.
"One doesn't simply call the police and say, 'I'd like to come in for a chat, ladies and gentlemen,'" McDonough said.
McDonough deposition: The police investigation | Read the transcript
Anderson also asked McDonough about his knowledge of an allegation that Nienstedt touched a boy's buttocks in 2009 during a group confirmation photo. Nienstedt has denied the allegation.
McDonough said that he talked to the priest who received the allegation and urged him to report it. He said that conversation took place about 24 hours before the priest notified police.
Police closed the case against Nienstedt without bringing charges but recently reopened it at the request of the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.
St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla expressed frustration at McDonough's remarks.
"St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith made it very clear that we have asked to speak with Father McDonough and we've been told no," he said. "If Father McDonough's position has changed and he's now consenting to meet with our investigators, that would undoubtably be welcome news."
He declined to comment on what police will do if McDonough continues to refuse to talk.
Police have 10 active criminal investigations into sexual conduct by priests, including the reopened cases against Wehmeyer and Nienstedt, Padilla said.
When asked why he didn't talk to the task force commissioned by Nienstedt to review archdiocese policies on abuse, McDonough said, "From the very beginning, I felt that there was a media frenzy about all of this, some of it stirred up by inaccurate statements from yourself," referring to Anderson. "And so I decided very early on that it would be better that folks who were doing whatever studies they were doing would proceed, and at some point I'd have an opportunity to offer my input. Since most of my activity [was] heavily documented publicly for many, many years, I didn't see any particular pressing need to defend my record."
McDonough said he stopped following news coverage of the clergy abuse scandal in October, shortly after MPR News aired its Sept. 23 investigative story on Wehmeyer. "I had other work I thought was more important and required my full attention," he said.
McDonough offers Anderson a "compliment"
Anderson and McDonough have battled for nearly three decades over abuse cases. Both men alluded to their longstanding rivalry throughout the deposition.
McDonough explained that Roach, the former archbishop, created a separate fund called the Catholic Community Foundation in the early 1990s so that donors could give money without the risk that it could be used to pay legal settlements and jury awards to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
It was a startling admission. Anderson has sought for years to prove that the foundation was created for that purpose.
McDonough also said that Anderson's presence in the Twin Cities influenced how he prepared internal documents.
"When I produced records, my tendency was to mentally invite Jeff Anderson into the office, presuming that I would be held accountable in the years ahead for my activity," he said. "So my general stance was to think in terms of what I was producing as one day being publicly available," he said. "And you, by the way, I offer you as a compliment, were part of the imagination I had in that regard."
"Well, thank you for that compliment," Anderson said. "When did you formulate that view that you should do that that way with me in mind?"
"Sometime perhaps about 20 years ago," McDonough replied.
McDonough also answered questions about allegations against the Rev. Michael Keating, who went on leave as a professor at the University of St. Thomas last year after a woman accused him in a lawsuit of sexually abusing her as a minor.
An investigation in 2007 by the archdiocese's clergy review board found insufficient evidence of child sexual abuse, but recommended to Archbishop Harry Flynn that Keating not be allowed to mentor teenagers and young adults.
After an MPR News story last year that raised questions about why Keating continued to work as a professor, the university launched an investigation.
One of the key questions is whether McDonough told Don Briel, director of the university's Center for Catholic Studies, about the Keating recommendation. Briel declined to comment when contacted last year by MPR News.
In his deposition, McDonough testified that he met Briel "with some frequency" and told him about the review board's findings and recommendation.
Anderson asked McDonough about the Rev. Joseph Gallatin, a priest who went on leave on Dec. 29, 2013. The archdiocese said at the time that a review of Gallatin's file found "a single incident of inappropriate conduct with a minor many years ago involving a boundary violation." A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to provide information on the alleged misconduct, and Gallatin did not respond to an interview request. Parishioners said they were confused about what had transpired.
In the deposition, McDonough disclosed that he received a call in about 2000 from a man whose son attended an out-of-state mission trip with Gallatin. The man said Gallatin touched his son's chest while he was sleeping, McDonough said.
Gallatin denied any sexual contact, McDonough said, and was sent for a psychological assessment that found he was "emotionally tightly wound, probably wrestling in his own mind with same-sex attractions," McDonough said.
Anderson asked McDonough if he recalled that Gallatin had "reported attraction to teenage males."
"I don't remember that, no," McDonough said. "I do recall attraction to males. I don't recall teenage males."
"Did Gallatin admit to you that he had touched the youth for his own sexual needs?" Anderson asked.
"He did not admit it was for his own sexual needs, but he did admit that he had touched the youth for some sense of physical contact," McDonough said.
"Which inferentially is sexual, correct?" Anderson said.
"Not necessarily," McDonough replied.
McDonough said he thought it was appropriate to keep Gallatin in ministry without restrictions or disclosure to all parishioners "because he constituted no danger to the public."
Haselberger, the former chancellor for canonical affairs, told MPR News she had reviewed internal documents that said Gallatin was prohibited from spending time alone with children.
Gallatin remains on leave.
Rev. Kevin McDonough deposition: "Any time a kid is hurt, my heart is broken | Read the transcript
McDonough acknowledged that former priest Lee Krautkremer, who left the priesthood after he declined to be monitored for abuse, received a $30,000 mortgage payment from the archdiocese.
Krautkremer admitted in a 2003 deposition to sexually abusing two boys at a Boy Scout camp and one boy at his cabin in the 1970s.
McDonough said the archdiocese made the mortgage payment so that Krautkremer "would not have to go on the market and find work that he could possibly get." Krautkremer worked at an International House of Pancakes after he left the priesthood, according to court documents.
McDonough said he doesn't believe several allegations against the Rev. Gilbert Gustafson, who left ministry because of abuse claims. Men and women have accused Gustafson of sexually abusing them as children, and the archdiocese has entered into several settlements with alleged victims. However, McDonough said he doesn't believe that Gustafson abused any girls.