Cop Chaplain Suspended, Investigated
Brothers Say They Were Molested Decades Ago

By Jaxon Van Derbeken
San Francisco Chronicle
August 16, 2002

The San Francisco Catholic Archdiocese has placed San Francisco's senior Police Department chaplain on leave from the church while authorities investigate allegations that he molested two brothers some 40 years ago.

Monsignor John P. Heaney, 74, who for 35 years has served as chaplain to the SFPD, was relieved of his clerical duties as of Aug. 11.

His suspension, which was met with disbelief by the police community, came after the San Francisco archbishop learned of a complaint lodged with the city's Child Protective Services unit, a report now being investigated by the San Francisco police juvenile division and the district attorney's office.

While relieved of his duties by the church, Heaney will retain his unpaid police chaplainship designation, awarded to him by the Police Commission, pending the outcome of the investigation.

According to authorities with knowledge of the investigation, the case came to the attention of police when one alleged victim's female therapist notified CPS, recounting how he said he had been molested by Heaney as a boy in the early 1960s.

Investigators later contacted the man's brother, who also recounted having been a victim. The brothers never had any idea the other had been victimized, authorities said.

San Francisco police spokesman Jim Deignan referred all comments on the case to the archdiocese.

Maurice Healy, spokesman for archdiocese, said Thursday that Heaney had been put on administrative leave by Archbishop William J. Levada. The church was notified Aug. 5 by CPS officials about the complaint.

"The weekly Mass has been discontinued," Healy said. "Heaney said at the Mass that he was being placed on administrative leave by the archbishop."

The archdiocese, in a statement, stressed that the "placement of Monsignor Heaney on administrative leave should not in any way imply a judgment as to the innocence or guilt (of Heaney) in this matter. Rather, it ensures that this public allegation not be an obstacle to effective pastoral ministry."

Heaney's attorney, former San Francisco police Officer Jim Collins, said Thursday that Heaney's name was being besmirched by a complaint after years of dedicated service.

"This is a man, for more than 40 years, who has done incredible charitable work," Collins said. "He is loved and adored by people in all walks of life and probably by every policeman who has been a cop for the last 30 or 40 years.

"I understand that there is an allegation that Monsignor Heaney adamantly denies. He has done nothing wrong. He is somebody who is idolized by so many people in San Francisco."

Heaney's flock appeared stunned at the news.

"He's like a saint in my book," said attorney and former SFPD Officer Joe O'Sullivan, who called upon Heaney to be godfather to his third son. "He's synonymous with the Police Department.

"He is the finest individual I have met while working as a San Francisco police officer. I have kept up that relationship -- many police officers continue to go to Mass every Sunday."

O'Sullivan, who represents other local priests under investigation for alleged wrongdoing, denounced the investigation as unjustified character assassination. "To me, this demonstrates how ludicrous this witch hunt has become," he said.

Heaney was ordained in 1953 and long served a maritime and transient population as part of his ministry, based at the Chapel of Apostleship of the Sea. The chapel was originally created to tend to sailors and merchant seamen at Harrison and Fremont streets near the Embarcadero.

"That function, because of demographic changes, was closed down in the mid-90s," Healy said. Heaney's remaining flock is about 100 police officers and their families who had attended his Sunday services.

"Currently, it's primary function is a chapel for the police community," Healy said.

Heaney formerly taught at Sacred Heart parochial school in San Francisco. He has long been the department's senior chaplain and recently served as chaplain to the New York Police Department's bomb squad.

"He's tremendously respected within the Police Department," said former police Chief Fred Lau. "He's always been one of the first members of the clergy to respond to a traumatic incident involving a San Francisco police officer."


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