Church Officials Silent about Fate of Priest in Abuse Case

By Gary Stern
Journal News
November 20, 2008

A former Westchester resident whose accusations of abuse against Monsignor Charles Kavanagh brought down the former chief fundraiser for the Archdiocese of New York is now furious that church officials will not tell him whether a decision has been reached in the slow-moving case.

Upon hearing this week that a decision had been reached, Daniel Donohue said he contacted the Rev. Richard Welch, who served as prosecutor for the archdiocese in a church trial on the case.

"The first thing he said was: 'I don't think they realized this would get out so quickly,' " Donohue said.

He was later told by another church official that he would be given no information.

"Every person involved in this process knows something except for the person who was victimized," Donohue said. "It's just amazing that it goes down this way."

Donohue, 44, first wrote to the archdiocese in 2002 that when he was a high school seminarian during the late 1970s, Kavanagh manipulated him into an emotionally charged relationship with sexual overtones. Donohue said that Kavanagh, the head of his school, got into bed with him on a trip wearing only underwear.

Kavanagh, who rose to become vicar of development and one of the most high-profile priests in New York, was suspended in May 2002 by Cardinal Edward Egan. Kavanagh has consistently maintained his innocence.

The case languished until the Vatican ordered a rare church trial - a chance for the archdiocese to make its case for suspension and for Kavanagh to defend himself. The trial was held in November 2006 in the Diocese of Erie, Pa., to reduce media attention.

Kavanagh and Donohue each testified before a panel of priests. Some witnesses were called back in January of this year.

"It's the strangeness of the whole process," said Donohue, who grew up in Peekskill and now lives in Portland, Ore. "I'm the victim, and I become the star witness of the archdiocese. But there's no transparency, and I get shut out. This system revictimizes someone."

Donohue also appeared before an archdiocesan review board February 2003, which supported Egan's suspension of Kavanagh.

Word began to spread slowly this week that a decision had been reached in the church court case.

Donohue, after being contacted by a reporter, reached out to church officials he has been in contact with since the trial. He said that Welch first confirmed, perhaps unintentionally, that a decision had been reached. Then a second church official, he said, tried to backtrack, saying there was no news.

"Finally he said there was nothing he could tell me," Donohue said.

Kavanagh, now 71, could not be reached for comment. The priest was publicly critical of the archdiocese's handling of the case until the trial was held. Since then, he has adhered to a promise of confidentiality. At the time of his suspension, Kavanagh was one of the main movers and shakers in the archdiocese. He hobnobbed with New York's wealthiest Catholics - taking care of dignitaries at Cardinal John O'Connor's funeral Mass in 2000 - even as he served as pastor of St. Raymond's Parish in the Bronx.

Many New York priests have voiced support for Kavanagh, at times questioning his treatment by the archdiocese.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, had no comment on the case yesterday.

Kavanagh had been rector of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, then a high school for prospective seminarians in New York City, when Donohue was a student there from 1978 to 1982.

Donohue later left the seminary system. He contacted the archdiocese in 2002 as the national sex-abuse crisis unfolded.

Reach Gary Stern at or 914-694-3513.


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