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  Officers in County on the Lookout for Suspended Priest
Former Oceanside Resident Wanted on Child-Molest Charges

By Karen Kucher
San Diego Union-Tribune
November 23, 2002

OCEANSIDE — Patrol officers are on the lookout for a suspended Roman Catholic priest indicted two months ago in San Francisco on child molestation charges. The Rev. Austin Peter Keegan, 66, is believed to be in Mexico, but he formerly lived in Oceanside.

He is being sought on an arrest warrant alleging 25 counts of child sex crimes and on a federal warrant for unlawfully fleeing to avoid prosecution. "The warrant for his arrest was issued back in the middle of September, and at that time I believe we went with the FBI to the residence to see if he was there," said Oceanside police Lt. Sheila Potkonjak. "We do have bulletins out to patrol officers so they know that he does have an address here in our city." Keegan has been accused of molesting children while he was as a priest in San Francisco and Santa Rosa. Incidents date to the 1970s, said Elliot Beckelman, an assistant district attorney in San Francisco. "Austin Peter Keegan is a monster," Beckelman said.

"He is one of the very, very bad ones.

It is not only the number of children he molested.

He also used force on children." Keegan was one of several priests named in a civil lawsuit filed in 1994 by men who claimed they were molested by the priests as children.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco paid $450,000 the next year to a man who said Keegan had abused him, press reports say. Keegan has been suspended from the ministry without pay or benefits, said Maurice Healy of the San Francisco archdiocese, and the church is seeking to have him defrocked. Little is known about Keegan's activities in San Diego County. "He never sought permission to do ministry here.

He doesn't appear in our records at all," said Bernadeane Carr, a spokeswoman with the Diocese of San Diego. According to county property records, Keegan bought a condominium in the Quail Ridge complex just south of state Route 76 and Mission Avenue in 1998. Keegan sold the three-story unit in October 2000 for $135,000, but became the property's owner again in December 2001 when it was deeded back to him by a subsequent owner. Keegan sold the condo again in February for $171,000. A man who has lived at the complex for two years said he did not recognize Keegan as a former resident. Beckelman said authorities believe Keegan has lived in Southern California and Baja California for several years and worked for a time at a Mexican orphanage in 1994. A FBI spokeswoman said law officers are looking for Keegan on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Beckelman said the Archdiocese of San Francisco has provided information about Keegan and other priests accused of molesting children to prosecutors.

He said the case is a priority in the District Attorney's Office. Beckelman said people might be helping Keegan hide from authorities without knowing the nature of the charges against him. "The story is he's being protected down there.

And if people are going to do that, they should understand who they are protecting," he said.

"The veil is off." This is not the first time law officers have searched San Diego County for a retired priest accused of abusing children. In May, the Rev. Paul Shanley was arrested in Hillcrest and extradited to Massachusetts to face charges that he repeatedly raped a young boy. Shanley, who has pleaded not guilty, had been a volunteer with the San Diego police's Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol.

 
 

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