Charges Against Foreign Priests Raise Issue of Supervision

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
June 27, 2002

The missionary priest had traveled from Kenya for a summerlong journey through some of America's wealthy and generous parishes to raise money for the church's work in Africa.

Priests from his worldwide order, the Holy Ghost Fathers, took him in at a church they run in Woodside, Queens — Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians — while he prepared for the trip. Within days the priest, the Rev. Peter Kiare, had befriended a divorced employee of the parish and taken her 12-year-old son on a Father's Day trip to Rockaway Beach. Yesterday, he was in jail on charges of sexually abusing the boy.

As a judge set bail at $50,000 cash, church officials from Ireland to Africa to Brooklyn all said Father Kiare, 41, was not their responsibility while he was on his mission.

"When somebody is sent out to do a job, you trust him on the job — just like any other company," said the Rev. Patrick Doody, the provincial delegate in Queens for the order's Irish branch, which runs the Woodside church.

While much of the blame for the church's sexual abuse scandal has been laid at the feet of bishops for failing to act on abuses by parish priests, the Kiare case casts light on another area: foreign priests who fall through the cracks, and among them, foreign missionary priests who have even less supervision.

Father Kiare, a native of Kenya, is the third foreign priest in a little more than a month arrested on charges of sexual abuse committed in the Brooklyn diocese, which includes Queens.

He was arrested Tuesday evening, five days after the accusation was reported to the Woodside pastor and two weeks after he arrived in New York on June 11.

Father Kiare pleaded not guilty yesterday to five counts of second-degree sexual abuse, five counts of forcible touching and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. He could face up to two years in prison if convicted, the Queens district attorney's office said.

During the bail hearing, Father Kiare's lawyer, Kenneth Appelbaum, tried to cast doubt on the boy's claim.

"An articulate 12-year-old should be able to scream out, should be able to say this man is doing something to me," he said. But no witness who heard that has come forward, he said.

Father Kiare, a man of medium build, wore a wrinkled white T-shirt and stared downward during the hearing. At one point, he closed his eyes and put clasped hands to his face in apparent prayer. A court officer ordered him to lower his hands.

The man who sent Father Kiare to the United States, the Rev. Sean McGovern, said he was shocked by the charge and had seen no hint of trouble from the priest. Father McGovern is the superior for the District of Kenya of the Holy Ghost Fathers, a worldwide missionary order which has been doing work in that country for a century and has 25 priests there.

"He was a good man," Father McGovern said in a telephone interview from Nairobi. "I sent him to America in all good will, and good faith."

Many priests come from abroad to help out in dioceses strapped by a shortage of priests. Missionaries also come through, with their orders or bishops applying to dioceses. The dioceses then assign parishes to the order's emissaries, who preach on the weekends and describe their works. The dioceses collect the donations and pass them on to the missionary orders.

Father Kiare was passing through the Brooklyn diocese and was not seeking authorization to act as a priest there, officials there said, so the diocese had no jurisdiction. Despite the lack of authorization, at least one parishioner said she remembered that Father Kiare took part in a Mass on June 16.

Technically, the dioceses where Father Kiare was to make his appeals would have supervision over him. Father Kiare's first stop was to be a Rockland County church, said Sister Bernadette Kenny, the Irish order's lawyer. He was to move on to Connecticut, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, the Bronx and New Jersey, she said.

Msgr. Ferdinand O. Berardi, director of the New York Archdiocese's propagation of the faith office, said he had assigned four parishes to Holy Ghost missionaries this year. "Who they are, I have no idea," he said.

The Rev. Donald J. McEachin, in Bethel Park, Pa., is the superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers eastern United States provincialate. Although he is sometimes informed about missionaries from his order passing through, "there's no rule that says I have to be informed whenever someone enters my jurisdiction," he said.

When asked if he was troubled that Father Kiare seemed to have no supervisor, he said: "If I had known about this guy, would that have prevented the situation? I don't know."

Sister Kenny said she, too, was concerned about who was keeping track of missionaries. But she suggested that the church was powerless regarding Father Kiare's situation. "You can't control people walking on the street," she said.

CORRECTION-DATE: June 29, 2002


An article on Thursday about the Rev. Peter Kiare, a missionary priest who is charged with sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy during a trip to Rockaway Beach, misidentified the lawyer who represented him during an arraignment on Wednesday. He is Michael Gaffey, not Kenneth Appelbaum. Mr. Appelbaum was the assistant district attorney at the hearing.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.