$35m Suit Filed over Sex Abuse

By Laura Frank
The Tennessean
January 20, 2000

The Nashville Catholic Diocese and the Metro government failed to protect a boy who was repeatedly raped and molested by former priest and Metro employee Edward J. McKeown, a $35 million lawsuit filed yesterday claims.

More lawsuits on behalf of other victims are expected, the boy's lawyers said.

The lawsuit filed in Davidson County Circuit Court yesterday names Metro, the Catholic dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville, McKeown and Franklin Richards, another former Nashville priest who told police he molested children. It was filed on behalf of the boy, now 16, who is identified in the lawsuit only as John Doe 1.

Nashville attorney John Hollins Jr., who represents the boy and his mother, says the Nashville and Knoxville dioceses are named because officials there knew McKeown had sexually abused children, but failed to report the abuse to authorities, as required by law.

Metro Nashville is named because Metro police dropped a 1995 investigation of allegations against McKeown and because Metro Juvenile Court officials had been warned McKeown was a pedophile, but failed to report the information.

Richards, who told police he molested 25 schoolboys in the 1970s and 1980s, was named because, the lawsuit claims, he knew McKeown had molested children, but did not report the information.

"If any of these people had followed through, what happened to this little boy would not have happened," Hollins said. "This ruined a whole lot of kids' lives."

Diocese officials had no comment on the lawsuit.

"Our legal counsel has not yet had an opportunity to review and understand the suit, so we're unable to issue a statement at this time," said diocese spokesman Rick Musacchio. "In all likelihood, since the matter is in litigation, we do not anticipate issuing a statement in the near future."

Richards would not comment.

Richards, who now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., has not been charged with any crimes because, police said, the statute of limitations has passed.

A Metro Police Department spokesman referred all questions to the Metro legal department. A spokesman there said a copy of the lawsuit had not yet been received.

Nashville diocese officials first learned in 1986 that McKeown had molested children. Between then and his arrest last year, McKeown admitted molesting eight more boys, police records show.

Church leaders forced McKeown to leave the priesthood in 1989 after pedophilia treatment failed. McKeown then got a job at the Juvenile Court clerk's office and in 1998 gained custody of the boy named in the lawsuit. In June, McKeown pleaded guilty to repeatedly raping and molesting the boy and said he had abused at least 21 others during the past three decades.

He was sentenced to 25 years without parole.

The Nashville lawsuit says church officials knew, or should have known, that young males "were at risk for sexual abuse if they were alone in the presence of Mr. McKeown."

The lawsuit asks for $8 million in compensatory damages for the boy and $2 million for his mother. It also asks for $25 million in punitive damages. Metro government is immune from punitive damages. The lawsuit says the family is seeking an "economic incentive" for those named in the lawsuit to protect children in the future, because "the moral incentive (has) been proven inadequate."

The suit mirrors others nationwide that have sought to hold religious organizations accountable when clergy members abuse children, said attorney John Day, who also represents the boy and his mother. For instance, the lawyers looked to a recent case in Dallas, where a jury awarded the largest amount to date $119.6 million in a verdict against the diocese there. To avoid years of appeals, the nine victims then settled with the Dallas diocese for $23.4 million.

"We took that into account in fixing our number" of $35 million, Day said. "It may be too much; it may be too little. A jury will decide that."


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