Monsignor Said to Be Barred for Allegation of Sex Abuse

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
Downloaded September 16, 2003

Msgr. Charles M. Kavanagh, the highest-ranking cleric of the Archdiocese of New York to be implicated in the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal, has been permanently barred from serving as a priest, two pastors who have been in contact with him or his family said yesterday.

Cardinal Edward M. Egan delivered the news in a meeting last month, devastating the immensely popular and influential monsignor and prompting him to seek an appeal to the Vatican, the priests said. Such an appeal would create a powerful test of wills between the cardinal and the priest, who was removed as director of fund-raising for the archdiocese and as pastor of St. Raymond's parish in the Bronx in May 2002.

Shortly before, Monsignor Kavanagh had been accused by a former seminary student of inappropriate touching when the priest was on the staff of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan.

The Rev. Edward G. Byrne, a seminary classmate of Monsignor Kavanagh's and pastor of St. Ann's parish in Ossining, said he had spoken to the monsignor shortly after the meeting with the cardinal. He said the cardinal had asked Monsignor Kavanagh to sign a document promising to apply to the Vatican for a return to lay status.

"He just said he was flabbergasted," Father Byrne said. "He just couldn't believe what he was being asked. He was totally unprepared for it, that he sign a paper requesting laicization, and he would not. He feels that he's innocent of whatever charges, and there has to be due process if you remove him, and it hasn't taken place."

The setback was particularly acute because Monsignor Kavanagh had thought in recent months that he would be exonerated, Father Byrne said. As recently as June, he appeared at a large gathering in his honor at a church in Chappaqua in full clerical garb contrary to the orders of Cardinal Egan. The cardinal has forbidden priests suspended for sexual abuse allegations to act as priests or wear their collars.

"He was just confident that things would work out, and he would be able to be back in ministry," Father Byrne said. He said Monsignor Kavanagh had told him he planned to obtain the help of a canon lawyer to appeal the case.

The dismissal was reported on Sunday in The Journal News of Rockland County.

A spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said the cardinal would have no comment about the case yesterday. Since the scandal began nearly two years ago, at least 14 priests in the archdiocese have been removed from their jobs. At least 15 others had already been suspended, were living outside the diocese or were retired for abuse accusations. Cardinal Egan has been meeting with them individually to give them the news: back in active ministry, or banned permanently.

The cardinal has said that all those cast out permanently would be asked to seek lay status, and if any refused, the cardinal could then move before the Vatican to have them removed from the priesthood. If a priest appealed, the case would go before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful Vatican agency that has taken charge of the abuse cases.

The Rev. George Kuhn, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Yonkers and also a friend of Monsignor Kavanagh's, said a sister of the monsignor's had called to give him the news. "That's directly from his family, that he's not coming back to ministry," the priest said. "I think many priests feel that their rights are being walked all over at this point. They don't feel that there's fair treatment here."

Monsignor Kavanagh's accuser, Daniel Donohue, said in a telephone interview yesterday that an official of the archdiocese had told him there was no final "resolution" of the case. He reacted with ambivalence to reports of the monsignor's dismissal.

"It's not like I feel victorious or anything like that," he said. "It doesn't address anything for me." Mr. Donohue said he had never intended for Monsignor Kavanagh to lose his vocation as a priest, and did not dispute the many loyal supporters who praise him as a superlative force in the church.

"But the fact still remains he did this, and he never apologized for it," Mr. Donohue said. "He did wrong."

Monsignor Kavanagh was suspended after Mr. Donohue, 39, wrote the archdiocese a letter accusing him of the inappropriate touching more than two decades ago. The priest was rector and spiritual director of the seminary.

Mr. Zwilling said an announcement about permanent suspensions was expected in the next issue of Catholic New York, the archdiocese's monthly newspaper, due out in early October.

Since Monsignor Kavanagh was suspended, some of his friends a number of them lawyers and business figures have formed a committee to support him. Signs in his praise adorn the fences of St. Raymond's, a large parish. His years as chief fund-raiser, or vicar for development, and organizer of the annual Alfred E. Smith fund-raising dinner provided a wide range of wealthy and prominent connections.

One supporter, John C. Dearie, a former state assemblyman, expressed anger yesterday that the cardinal had given no written notification of the monsignor's fate.

"I think that somebody who gives 40 years of his life to the archdiocese, they are entitled to an official decision," he said. "I think it's utterly wrong and grossly unfair." But he said that Monsignor Kavanagh, who has declined interviews, would respect the cardinal by not revealing the substance of their conversations.


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