Molestation Case Haunts Church, Victim

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
December 5, 1999

It happened in a blink. One Sunday in the autumn of 1994, the Rev. Patrick Keane was celebrating Mass as usual as associate pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie; a week later, he was gone. Nobody knew why.

What happened, court documents and interviews show, was that in the intervening days Keane had admitted to superiors that a tale just brought to them was true: that in 1980 or 1981 the associate pastor had molested a 15- or 16-year-old high school student in the rectory of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Metairie.

Keane's confession suddenly forced officials at the Archdiocese of New Orleans into a series of decisions: What to do with Keane? How much to disclose to people with whom he had worked? How to find other potential victims?

The archdiocese's decisions would have to balance what to reveal vs. what to keep quiet.

Those decisions also would define the church's response to Patrick Collins, a Jefferson Parish man who had brought the accusations against Keane, and who at that moment was both a victim and, in the church's eyes, a potential threat.

How the church resolves such cases in Louisiana and elsewhere has been a source of controversy for 15 years, beginning with its handling of the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, the Lafayette priest who was transferred from parish to parish while he molested dozens of children before his conviction and 10-year imprisonment in 1985.

Since then, and with mixed success, the church's 194 largely autonomous dioceses nationwide have struggled to develop procedures for dealing with such priestly misconduct .

Court records in the Keane case and supporting interviews provide an unusually vivid picture of how the church in New Orleans responded when faced with one such allegation.

Its circumstances are clear-cut: Keane's admission meant church authorities did not have to sort through differing versions of events, and court records on the case are unusually detailed. The most compelling part of that record is Keane's sworn deposition, made available by Collins' attorney, Harry Widmann.

The record shows how the church handled the case in several key areas:

• Its treatment of Keane, which was swift but also notably compassionate.

• Its treatment of Collins, which his attorney says was brusque and so cold that he has never received an apology — a charge an archdiocesan spokesman could not directly address.

• Its treatment of the families Keane served in five earlier New Orleans-area assignments. They were never told of his misconduct or of the possibility, raised recently by Widmann's investigation, that Keane had molested other children. The issue is pertinent because many observers in and out of the church recommend disclosure as a convincing sign to victims in hiding that it is safe to step forward.

All are sensitive decisions, made case by case.

For example, four years after the Keane case came to their attention, church authorities in New Orleans were faced with a parent's accusation that Norco grammar school teacher and coach Brian Matherne had molested his son. This time, the secondhand nature of the allegation, Matherne's denial and the coach's good record convinced church officials they could not prudently suspend him.

Matherne was later arrested and charged with more than 400 counts of sexually abusing juveniles, charges he has denied. His case, however, has prompted the archdiocese to review its 1993 policy for handling complaints of sexual abuse.

And in another case, the archdiocese has elected to quietly stand behind the Rev. Michael Fraser, who was accused in a St. Tammany Parish civil lawsuit last year of molesting a parishioner, Robert Johnson, then 17, in the rectory of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River in 1991.

Fraser has denied the allegation and remains a priest in good standing at Visitation Parish in Marrero, where he was transferred before the lawsuit was filed.

••• Keane admits molesting Collins •••

Five years after the archdiocese learned of the case involving Keane, the archdiocese and Collins are still dealing with its ramifications.

Three weeks ago, an attempt to settle Collins' lawsuit out of court broke down. A new round of pretrial depositions will soon be scheduled, Widmann said.

Keane's story is already on record.

On July 27, Widmann took Keane's deposition under oath in a hotel room in New York, where Keane testified that he molested Collins, but no one else.

He testified that from St. Catherine's he agreed to an immediate transfer to Villa St. John Vianney, a church-run treatment center for sexual disorders in Downington, Pa., where he said he was diagnosed as having "a sexual addiction."

He said he now works as a flight attendant and purser for Tower Air Inc., a New York airline company. He is no longer a priest. He said he still regularly sees a counselor in Manhattan as part of his treatment.

Meanwhile, Collins, now married and a new father, still sees a church-paid counselor, Widmann said.

Four months after he told the archdiocese what occurred with Keane, Collins filed suit. His life was rapidly deteriorating, Widmann said. His engagement broke up. In July 1995 he attempted suicide and was hospitalized for a month at DePaul Hospital, Widmann said. He also has rejected the Catholicism of his youth.

Widmann said Collins did not want to be interviewed.

••• Encounter reopens wounds •••

From the archdiocese's perspective, the Keane story began in November 1994, when Collins and a cousin met with Monsignor Ray Hebert and told him what Keane had done to Collins years earlier.

By that time, Keane had been in the archdiocese for the better part of 20 years, with no hint of sexual misconduct on his record, said Sharon Rodi, a New Orleans attorney the archdiocese appointed as spokeswoman in the Keane case.

He had served earlier assignments at St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie, at St. Cecilia in New Orleans and Mary Magdalen, where Collins, a teen-ager, had been given a clerical job in the rectory because he was interested in the priesthood.

After leaving Mary Magdalen, Keane was promoted to pastor of Holy Family Parish in Luling and briefly served at St. Anselm Parish in Madisoieve a preference for disclosure not only rebuilds trust in the church but also is the most effective way to coax other victims into coming forward.

A preference for disclosure "sends a message that the archdiocese is trying to deal with these things responsibly, that we're not trying to sweep this thing under the rug," said the Rev. Thomas Paprocki, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

••• Disclosure level varies •••

In Chicago, when archdiocesan officials believe it prudent to suspend temporarily an employee accused of sexual misconduct, the archdiocese always informs local lay leaders in the affected parish and asks their advice on the need for more disclosure, Paprocki said..

"Our victim-assistance minister makes clear to us that sharing that information with people is the way to help set the stage for others who may have been victims to come forward," Paprocki said.

Openness sometimes pays unexpected legal dividends in that victims who come forward and feel they are treated fairly sometimes elect not to sue, he said.

Some critics, particularly among plaintiffs' attorneys, have long argued that a church policy of silence is crafted by defense attorneys urging their client-bishops to do as little as possible so as to protect church assets from litigation.

"They are one-trick ponies," Widmann said. "And their one trick is how to cover up this mess. They do it over and over again."

"I can tell you in the conversation I had about this, (cover-up) never came up" in the Keane case, Rodi said. "And I do believe the archdiocese is sincerely concerned about incidents like this. And they're concerned about everybody involved."

In practice, disclosing that an employee has been temporarily removed from ministry while a sex abuse investigation unwinds does not invite an avalanche of bogus lawsuits, Paprocki said.

Partly that is because fraudulently claiming to have been molested involves greater personal risk than, say, bringing a trumped-up "slip and fall" lawsuit, said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests.

"In sexual matters, there's still a great deal of shame attached and a great deal of risk associated with coming forward," he said.

Moreover, Paprocki said, "sometimes it's the lawyers telling you, 'You have to act like a church here'" and be open and honest.

••• Victim feels slighted •••

Shortly after his meeting with Schulte, Keane quietly left for the treatment center, his care paid for by the archdiocese, Rodi said.

It later gave him financial assistance to help him get settled after his discharge in mid-1995, she said.

Collins, meanwhile, knew nothing of these developments, Widmann said.

After a follow-up meeting with Hebert, in which Hebert told him Keane had admitted the truth and the church would pay for his therapy, Collins felt that Hebert "could not wait to get him out of the room," Widmann said.

Collins never learned what happened to Keane and never received any follow-up queries about his own well-being, Widmann said.

"He feels like they told him simply to send in the therapy bills," leaving Collins with the impression that the church would decide unilaterally how long it would help him, Widmann said.

"The church's approach is very, very legalistic. Dealing with them is like dealing with an insurance adjuster — very detached, very cold. It's strictly a dollars and cents approach," he said.

"When Patrick left that meeting was when he began to get really outraged," Widmann said. "My reading is he had no thought of getting a lawyer until that point."

In general, Rodi said, she could not say whether it was true, as Collins claimed, that no one at the archdiocese ever apologized to him or that they treated him with the aloofness he alleges in his suit.

"I don't know the answer to that," she said.

Whatever the truth of Collins' description, critics of church policy say that experience is still common.

"Ironically, people who come forward with complaints are sometimes treated like pariahs, when in fact we're trying to do the church a huge favor in trying to cleanse it of these abusers," Clohessy said.

GRAPHIC: Patrick Keane, a former priest at St. Catherine of Sienna Parish in Metairie, admitted in a taped deposition on July 27 in New York that he had molested a high school student named Patrick Collins in Metairie in 1980 or 1981. The handling of the case by the Archdiocese of New Orleans since it found out about the molestation is a point of contention in a lawsuit filed by Collins, now an adult.


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