Woman sues Archdiocese for 'sham investigation' into sexual abuse claim

Rev. Michael Keating
The Rev. Michael Keating served as keynote speaker at a parish leadership conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston in Newton, Mass.
George Martell/The Pilot Media Group

An attorney representing a woman who claims that the Rev. Michael Keating sexually abused her in the late 1990s sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis today for conducting a "sham investigation" into her complaint.

The lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court also accuses the Rev. Kevin McDonough — a former top church deputy — of defamation for falsely claiming that the woman suffered from "delusions." Attorney Jeff Anderson said McDonough made the remark in an email to an office at the University of Mary, a Catholic school in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Anderson added the charges to a previous lawsuit he filed against Keating in October 2013. The woman, who is not named in the suit, alleges that Keating sexually abused her when she was about 13 to 15 years old.

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Explore the full investigation Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic church

Anderson said his client also wanted to speak out about Keating's resignation last week from his position as a Catholic Studies professor at the University of St. Thomas. Keating, who has denied any wrongdoing, had been on a leave of absence since October 2013.

The university's announcement of the resignation last week did not refer to the abuse complaint. It quoted a letter from Keating that said he made the decision after "careful consideration of my current situation in light of my employment options and long-standing goals."

Anderson said his client was disturbed by the statement. "To allow him to resign under what we consider false pretenses, or a half-truth at best, is wrong," he said.

Anderson said the University of St. Thomas "may bear some responsibility" but that he remains focused on the role of the archdiocese and McDonough.

Documents published last year by MPR News showed the woman's family first reported the allegations to the archdiocese in 2006. The archdiocese's clergy review board investigated and concluded in November 2007 that there was insufficient evidence of child sexual abuse. Nonetheless, it recommended to Flynn that Keating not be allowed to mentor teenagers and young adults.

The lawsuit filed today claims the archdiocese did not take the woman's complaint seriously and conducted an improper investigation that intentionally harmed the woman and her family. It said the archdiocese's handling of the complaint also "protected Keating and the Archdiocese from public scandal and scorn."

In a statement released by Anderson today, the woman said she was disappointed by the actions of archdiocese officials.

"When I first brought the terrible reality of having been sexually abused by Fr. Michael Keating to the archdiocese, I truly believed that they would work with me to bring justice and healing to the situation," she said. "Sadly, over the years I have come to realize that the archdiocese has been more concerned with saving face than with addressing the deep wounds they have caused.

"What scares me the most is the possibility of more children being abused. No child should have to live with the fear and shame that I carried for years. I truly love my Catholic faith and it makes me so sad when I think of how this archdiocese continues to fail in the area of justice and the protection of children. The truth needs to be brought to light and these issues need to be addressed."

Most Rev. Lee Piche
Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piche speaks on the steps of the Capitol before the rosary procession Sunday, May. 6, 2012.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News

Archbishop John Nienstedt declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a statement released today, Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché said Keating is not serving as a priest as he remains on voluntary leave.

"His leave of absence came after he was named in a lawsuit regarding claims that he had sexually abused a minor before he was a priest," Piché said. "Our investigation into the claim is still ongoing, and is independent of the investigation at University of St. Thomas."

McDonough could not be immediately reached for comment.

Although the private University of St. Thomas is not run by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the two organizations are closely connected.

Documents published by MPR News last year showed McDonough had planned to inform Don Briel, the university's director of the Center for Catholic Studies, of the conclusion of the Keating investigation. "To the extent that others in the University have to be notified, we should see to that as well," McDonough wrote in a March 13, 2008 memo to Flynn.

Keating's continued teaching of young adults at the university indicates that the board's recommendation was not followed.

The investigation into the matter has not been completed, a university spokesman said today. Briel retired in August and has declined several interview requests.

Editor's note (Sept. 23, 2014): Due to a production error, the original version of this story was published with a description for the MPRnews.org homepage that did not accurately reflect the content of the story. The description has been corrected.