Out of Limbo
Accused Priest Finally Secures Day in Court

By Ray O'Hanlon
Irish Echo [New York]
January 11, 2006

A prominent New York priest is to be tried before an ecclesiastical court on charges of having an inappropriate relationship with a high school student. The priest in question, Monsignor Charles Kavanagh, said he is relieved by the announcement from the Archdiocese of New York that he will finally have his day in court.

"I'm delighted. All I've asked from the beginning is for a full and fair hearing," Kavanagh told the Irish Echo.

The beginning of Kavanagh's case was May 2002. The accusation against him stretches back more than 20 years.

Since the accusation first surfaced, Kavanagh, who is 68, has been in a canonical version of a legal limbo, uncertain if he would ever have a chance to clear his name.

But the Vatican recently gave the go-ahead for a rare hearing before a panel of canon law experts.

The hearing is expected to take place in Erie, Pa. The venue was reportedly chosen in order to tone down the kind of media attention that the hearing would receive if it were held in New York.

A date has yet to be announced for the hearing that will take place behind closed doors and will not be open to the press.

Msgr. Kavanagh has been on extended administrative leave from his position in the archdiocese, where for years he served as vicar of development, a job that is primarily focused on raising funds and organizing major events, including the annual Al Smith charitable dinner.

It was Msgr. Kavanagh who led the organizing for the funeral of the late Cardinal John O'Connor in 2000.

His work, however, came to a sudden halt two years later when an accusation was made by a former seminarian that Kavanagh had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with him more than 20 years ago.

The accusation leveled against Kavanagh has not prompted either civil or criminal action and rests solely with church authorities.

Since the accusation surfaced, Kavanagh has continued to work in community-based projects, most especially in the Bronx where he was pastor at St. Raymond's church prior to being put on leave.

But he has not been active in the workings of the archdiocese.


The uncertainty surrounding Kavanagh's position, and his vocal campaign to secure a hearing, at one point prompted 75 priests in the archdiocese to write a letter to Cardinal Edward Egan expressing frustration over the delay in hearing Kavanagh's case, and delays generally with regard to the archdiocese and the Vatican dealing with cases where priests are accused of inappropriate behavior.

That delay has been rooted in new policies adopted by the Catholic Church in response to the spate of child abuse scandals in recent years.

The Kavanagh case file was sent to the Vatican where it rested up until recent days with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church office headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger until his elevation to the papacy.

Kavanagh has submitted statements to the congregation in his own defense and has traveled to Rome to speak for himself.

The delay is convening a hearing rests in large part on the fact that Kavanagh was placed on administrative leave. Had he been suspended outright the result would have been a speedier trial.

Kavanagh's accuser, Daniel Donohue, has charged that Kavanagh engaged in an intense, six-year relationship with him with "romantic and sexual overtones."

The alleged relationship took place when Donahue -- now in his early 40s and a father of four living on the West Coast -- was a student at Cathedral Preparatory School in Manhattan, a high school where young men considering the priesthood are educated.

Msgr. Kavanagh was principal of the school at the time.

Donohue told the Westchester County-based Journal News that he had been unable to meet Cardinal Egan to discuss the case.

While he welcomed the now anticipated hearing, Donohue indicated that it would not amount to full due process because he had been unable to bring civil charges due to the length of time since the alleged incidents.

Kavanagh was reportedly told in 2003 that an archdiocesan review board composed of laypeople had determined that he was guilty of the charge of having an inappropriate relationship and that he had been asked to resign by Cardinal Egan.

Kavanagh reportedly refused to resign and the matter was subsequently passed to the Vatican.

As the delay in calling a hearing lengthened, the archdiocese justified the lack of action on the need to sure that proper procedure was followed, that the rights of all concerned were respected and that nothing would occur in the case that was in haste or inappropriate.

As he waited for his hearing, Kavanagh submitted himself to two polygraph tests and passed both.

He has received widespread support from lay Catholics as well priests in the archdiocese.

"Charlie is an excellent priest and has been for 41 years," said the Rev. Edward Byrne, a classmate of Kavanagh's from their seminary days and one of his leading supporters among the archdiocese's priests.

"He is innocent. He has held his head up high. He should have a fair trial followed by a comeback," Byrne, who is pastor of St. Ann's Church in the Westchester County village of Ossining, told the Echo.

"From the beginning I said that I was going to trust the church," Kavanagh said.

What he has been less than trusting in is what he describes as a "climate of overreaction" in which priests accused of wrongdoing are, unlike himself, not even granted a hearing.

"The climate has given this standing," Kavanagh said in reference to the case against him.

He added that he was confident he would prevail before the canon law panel.

"Even my accuser's statements indicate there was no sexual activity between us," he said.

"I have always been true to my vows. I have not been hiding. I am proud of my life and other people are proud of my life. I have just been myself and what you see is what you get."


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