Diocese Ok'd Priest to Teach: Allegations: He Has Been Charged with Sexually Abusing a Minor in Highland in 1972.

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise
August 17, 2002

The Diocese of San Bernardino acknowledged Friday that it

cleared a former Inland priest to work at a Christian school in

Orange County despite past allegations of sexual misconduct

against him.

Authorities are searching for Monsignor Patrick O'Keeffe, 67,

who was charged last month with 15 felony counts of oral

copulation with a minor stemming from his alleged 1972 abuse of

a 17-year-old girl at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland.

But in 1997, diocesan officials say they were aware only of

accusations brought by three adult women against O'Keeffe. They

cleared O'Keeffe to teach at the private St. Anne School in Laguna

Niguel, said the Rev. Howard Lincoln, spokesman for the diocese

that encompasses Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

"We did not handle this matter correctly," Lincoln said. "Had it

occurred today, we would have handled it far differently and Pat

O'Keeffe definitely would not have been recommended to St. Anne."

O'Keeffe could not be located for comment.

O'Keeffe was dismissed by the San Bernardino diocese in 1994

after it reached a confidential settlement to end a lawsuit brought

by one of three women who had accused him of sexual misconduct,

Lincoln said.

Two other women had accused O'Keeffe of similar misconduct about

15 years earlier, Lincoln said.

The woman who accuses O'Keeffe of abusing her in 1972 told the

diocese that she first reported the alleged misconduct to church

officials in 1989. But the diocese has no record of the report,

Lincoln said, adding that the matter apparently was handled


O'Keeffe, a Laguna Niguel resident who retired from the

priesthood in 1999, began teaching at the elementary and middle

school in 1994.

O'Keeffe was dismissed by St. Anne in April of this year after

the diocese told school administrators of the 1972 allegations,

Lincoln said.

School administrators could not be reached for comment.

The school is not affiliated with the Diocese of Orange County,

said diocese spokeswoman Maria Schinderle. She said O'Keeffe is not

authorized to work as a priest in the diocese and that his teaching

job was considered a secular position.

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