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Unsealed file on pedophile priest contradicts church statements

Priest McKeown was not kept from Nashville children as bishop said

The Nashville Tennesseean
May 19, 2002

In July 1999, after months of public revelations about a priest who molested boys in Nashville and elsewhere in Tennessee, Bishop Edward U. Kmiec issued a detailed explanation, read at Mass throughout the Midstate, about what the church knew and how it responded.

He assured parishioners that the diocese had removed priest Edward McKeown from "direct or unsupervised contact with youth" after an initial molestation complaint was lodged against him in 1986. The diocese knew of only three incidents involving McKeown before removing him from the active priesthood in 1989, the bishop said.

 But a court document unsealed last week paints a much different picture, with new information about the case that has never been made public.

It shows that Mc-Keown - who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year-old boy - 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. It also shows that the church knew of more than three incidents involving McKeown before he was dismissed.

The document, a legal brief, was unsealed by the state Court of Appeals in response to a request from The Tennessean - a request the diocese opposed.

The brief that was unsealed was filed by lawyers for two of McKeown's victims in their appeal of a failed suit against the diocese. The brief contains excerpts and summaries of testimony and documentary evidence. The complete records remain under seal. The diocese filed its own brief, which didn't address the accuracy of the excerpts and summaries. (See story on Page 2A.)

Diocese officials declined Friday to comment on any information in the brief and said The Tennessean's reporting was "false, incomplete and misleading." Spokesman Rick Musacchio declined to elaborate, saying he was forbidden to do so by the same court order that keeps some of the case documents sealed.

The brief shows:

 o Despite clear instructions from McKeown's doctors that he be kept away from children, he was allowed to teach youth classes called "Evenings with Eddie" and participate in youth activities, including sleepovers, at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch, according to sworn testimony from a priest and a victim, as well as excerpts of a doctor's letter.

McKeown also was permitted to hear children's confessions at St. Ignatius, according to testimony from another priest, the Rev. Ed Alberts, who was in charge of the parish at the time.

When diocese officials sent McKeown to live at the St. Ignatius rectory in 1987, no one from the diocese warned Alberts that McKeown was a pedophile, Alberts testified in the lawsuit. Alberts somehow learned the truth, though it remains unclear how. Nonetheless, he allowed McKeown to work with children.

Alberts himself did not warn the priest who replaced him about McKeown, who continued working with children at St. Ignatius.

Alberts testified that it was "not my responsibility" to warn the priest.

McKeown later molested at least four children he met during this time at the parish, McKeown told police after his eventual arrest in 1999.

The Tennessean called Alberts on Friday for comment about his deposition. Alberts, currently the priest at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, declined.

 o Diocese officials knew of other incidents involving McKeown - not just the three mentioned in Kmiec's statements - before removing him from active priesthood.

Some of the additional incidents were mentioned in a 1986 report sent to the diocese from St. Luke Institute, a Catholic psychiatric hospital in Maryland, where the church had sent McKeown for treatment. McKeown admitted to multiple sexual encounters with boys, the report said.

The diocese made no attempt to learn the identity of the boys whom McKeown was referring to, according to testimony from the Rev. Charles Giacosa, then the diocese's personnel director.

Another Institute report said McKeown had admitted to molesting boys on average "once or twice a month." It was unclear from the brief whether this report was sent to the diocese.

Additionally, the brief reveals publicly for the first time that Kmiec received allegations against McKeown in 1995, six years after he was removed from the active priesthood, according to notes that Kmiec kept. There is no record these allegations were ever reported to police, prosecutors or the Department of Human Services, according to officials of those agencies.

The newly released records also show that Kmiec drafted a letter in 1996 requesting that McKeown stop bringing boys to the sidelines of football games at Father Ryan High School. A similar request had been made eight years earlier by the previous bishop.

Church leaders have said repeatedly that the allegations of child sex abuse against McKeown were reported to civil authorities, as required by state law.

Diocese officials also have said that when Giacosa reported the 1986 allegation to Alice Reid, who handled such reports at what is now the Department of Children's Services, he was told that no report was necessary because the alleged victim was no longer a juvenile.

However, Reid testified that she had no record nor recollection of any reports concerning McKeown.

One father's story

Church leaders have said in the past, and repeated in response to the lawsuits, that top diocese officials did the best they could to address McKeown's pedophilia, given what they knew then about the subject and McKeown's actions.

But one father of a boy who was molested questioned that in an interview with The Tennessean.

McKeown began molesting the son about three years after they met at the St. Ignatius youth group in the late 1980s.

The father said he had begun to wonder about McKeown after the priest asked his son to spend the night with him. The father asked Alberts, then priest at St. Ignatius, if McKeown could be trusted around children. The father said Alberts had assured him that all was fine.

"The guy (McKeown) told me he had been in an institution, but no one would tell me why,'' said the father, who agreed to speak publicly about his son's abuse provided he was not identified.

"The people who knew (about McKeown) are just as guilty as he is,'' the man said. "If it was me harboring a criminal, what would they do to me? They knew it and unleashed the guy on an unknowing community."

Alberts testified in the court case that he was aware while at St. Ignatius that McKeown was a pedophile.

In an interview Friday, Alberts said he did not recall the conversation with the father and declined to comment on his testimony in the lawsuit.

What happened to McKeown

In late 1988, diocese officials decided they had to get McKeown out of the Nashville Diocese after learning he had taken boys to football games at Father Ryan and brought two children to spend the night at the rectory where he lived, according to testimony by Giacosa.

Church officials offered McKeown the chance to move to another diocese, according to Giacosa's notes. Documents filed on behalf of the diocese say that option was offered only if the new diocese was told of McKeown's "problems."

McKeown threatened to "go public" with his past if he was not paid $50,000 to leave the diocese, according to his testimony. He and church officials finally agreed to a plan that included financial support if he left the active priesthood. Church officials said in their brief that they felt an obligation under the laws of the church to provide the money, which ultimately totaled $51,500.

McKeown went on to work for Metro government. He also went on abusing boys.

He was arrested in 1999 for raping a 12-year-old who was in his custody. He pleaded  guilty and is serving a prison term of 25 years without parole.

After his arrest, diocese officials offered counseling to his victims and to the victims of another former Nashville priest, Franklin T. Richards, and any other priests. The diocese also began background checks of clergy, teachers, coaches and volunteers having direct and sustained contact with youth.

But court records show that the victims were not the only concern.

In December 1988, Bishop James Niedergeses and Giacosa met to discuss how to get McKeown to leave the Nashville Diocese. Church spokesman Musacchio said neither man would comment for  this  article.

Giacosa's notes read: "National TV - Geraldo Rivera - '20-20' ... we are in trouble - no insurance coverage ... Gino Marchetti went to NCCB legal counsel meeting ... Liability problem - we are exposed ... problem of negligent hiring ... problem of negligent supervision.'' (Marchetti is a diocese lawyer. NCCB is the National  Conference of Catholic Bishops.)

When the two leaders met with McKeown later that month, the notes from the meeting show that the bishop told McKeown of his concerns about the priest's behavior. He also discussed  other concerns.

"I have to deal with scandal ... ,'' Niedergeses said. "They have crucified some bishops.''

McKeown tried to reassure them:

"Most of what I did was not here in this area. I am more guarded now than in (the) past ... ," he says, according to the notes. "Other things could come out - I have to take steps to deal with them."


The Diocese of Nashville has been conducting background checks on people who work with children for nearly a decade. A Tennessean article on Page 1A Sunday misstated how long that has  been occurring.

The article quoted a legal brief as saying Bishop Edward Kmiec had drafted a letter to former priest Edward McKeown in 1996 asking him to stop bringing boys to football games at Father Ryan High School.

While the brief says that a diocese employee was aware McKeown was bringing boys to games, the brief does not say whether that was in the letter. The brief says the letter requested McKeown to stop standing on the sidelines at games.

The Tennessean regrets the errors.

(This correction ran Tuesday May 21 2002 on page 2A)

The Catholic Diocese responds

The Catholic Diocese, through its spokesman, Rick Musacchio, declined to comment on what was in the unsealed legal brief. Musacchio provided the following statement after The Tennessean sent him an e-mail detailing the material to be examined in today's stories:

"What you call discrepancies continue to contain false, incomplete, and misleading statements. The information that you have described in your email is clearly covered under the protective orders that remain in full force and effect. We continue to refuse to violate those orders. The Court of Appeals only unsealed portions of a copy of the appeal brief subject to certain important restrictions, including these protective orders.

"While we appreciate your concern about fairness, it is impossible to be fair when such false, incomplete, and misleading information is given and then we are invited to violate legal restrictions of the protective orders in order to respond. We are disappointed in your attempts to retry lawsuits which have been summarily dismissed."

Stories based on summaries of legal testimony

While summaries of testimony in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Nashville have been made public, the transcripts of that testimony as well as other evidence remain under seal.

It is those summaries, contained in a legal brief filed by two boys who said they were victims of the Rev. Edward McKeown, that are referred to in the accompanying stories.

The two boys said they were molested after McKeown left the priesthood. They sought $70 million from the Nashville Diocese and other parties, saying that if the diocese had acted earlier against McKeown, they would not have been abused.

The other defendants were Franklin T. Richards (another former Nashville priest who admitted molesting boys), the diocese in Knoxville (where both priests had worked), and Metro government (because one victim's mother reported McKeown to police in 1995, but police never questioned McKeown).

Lawyers for both sides had agreed to keep testimony - plus certain records and legal documents - sealed from the public to protect the boys' identities and to prevent tainting of the local jury pool if the case ever went to trial.

Pieces of the case were subsequently dismissed until only the Nashville Diocese remained as a defendant. Kurtz dismissed the remainder of the case last year, saying the church could not be held accountable for abuse of the boys because it happened too long - five years - after McKeown agreed to leave the priesthood. At the request of the diocese, Kurtz ordered the two boys to pay $7,500 each to reimburse legal costs of the church.

In July 2001, the victims appealed Kurtz's ultimate dismissal of the case. That appeal is pending.

The victims' brief was unsealed by the state Court of Appeals in response to a request by The Tennessean. The diocese opposed the request. The victims supported it.