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Edward McKeown, former Nashville priest convicted of rape, dies in prison

Article from the Tennessean:

Nashville.  December 31, 2018:  Former Nashville Catholic priest Edward McKeown, convicted in 1999 of the rape of a teenage boy a decade after he was forced from the priesthood, died Sunday while serving a 25-year sentence. He was 74. 

McKeown, who was incarcerated at South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tennessee, died at a local hospital of natural causes, a prison spokeswoman confirmed.

McKeown pleaded guilty to abusing a 12-year-old boy in his neighborhood over a three-year period. He was due to be released May 1, 2020.

At the time of his sentencing, prosecutors said the crime was part of a pattern of pedophilia. McKeown had abused some 30 boys over two decades in Nashville and in East Tennessee, according to prosecutors. 

Church officials knew about accusations against McKeown in the years before his arrest, but did not report them to police. Instead they sent McKeown for treatment then forced him from the priesthood in 1989.

By 1999, McKeown was in state prison. 

It would be another three years before the The Boston Globe's reporting propelled the issue of widespread clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church onto the national stage. 

In Nashville, McKeown's conviction — on two counts of sexual battery and one count of rape — marked the beginning of a sex abuse scandal the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville continues to reckon with today.

In November, in response to this summer's damning Pennsylvania report on sex abuse in six of the state's eight diocese, the Nashville diocese released the names of priests accused of sexually abusing minors. McKeown is among them. Many on the list are dead and none are in active ministry. 

Several dioceses and religious orders across the country have joined the Nashville diocese in releasing the names.

How the diocese responded to abuse allegations against McKeown

McKeown was ordained in 1970.

He was assigned to serve at churches, schools and youth programs in Nashville, Chattanooga and numerous small towns in East Tennessee. In Nashville he served as associate pastor of St. Edward Church and a part-time teacher at Father Ryan High School. 

After his widely publicized arrest, then-Bishop Edward U. Kmiec issued a detailed explanation, read at Mass throughout the Middle Tennessee diocese.

He assured parishioners that the diocese had removed McKeown from "direct or unsupervised contact with youth" after an initial molestation complaint was lodged against him in 1986. 

But in 2002, court records unsealed by the Tennessee Court of Appeals in a civil lawsuit against the diocese by two of McKeown's victims painted a different picture. 

The records revealed that McKeown was allowed to teach youth classes, hear children's confessions and participate in sleepovers with children, even after the diocese said he was being kept away from them.

The records showed that the church knew of multiple incidents involving McKeown before he was dismissed.

The records were unsealed only after The Tennessean intervened in the case. The diocese unsuccessfully fought to keep them secret.

After McKeown was forced from the priesthood in 1989, he went on to work at the Davidson County Juvenile Court — and to abuse more boys.

The diocese later settled a lawsuit brought by two of McKeown's victims for $1.1 million. 

In total, the diocese and its insurance company have spent about $6.5 million for abuse victims of McKeown and other priests since 2002, according to a Tennessee Register report.

Reach Anita Wadhwani at, 615-259-8092 or on Twitter @AnitaWadhwani.

Reach Holly Meyer at or 615-259-8241 and on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.