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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - Tennessee




Diocese says it tried to protect the public



June 3, 2001

 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville "made every effort" to treat former priest Edward McKeown and to protect the public when church officials learned in 1986 that McKeown had molested a boy 14 years earlier, lawyers for the diocese say in recently filed court papers.

 That included informing a state child-welfare worker, sending McKeown away for nine months of treatment, removing him from contact with children when he returned to work in Nashville and giving him financial aid and health insurance after he was "fired" from the priesthood in 1989, attorneys for the diocese said in documents filed recently in Davidson County Circuit Court.

 The lawyers now are pressing for dismissal of lawsuits filed by two boys who say McKeown molested them in the 1990s.  Circuit Judge Walter Kurtz has scheduled a hearing Friday on the diocese's motions for summary judgment and dismissal of the two boys' lawsuits against the church.

 The lawyers also said one of those boys was a "troubled youth" before he met McKeown in 1995 when the boy was 12. It was his complaint to police that sent McKeown to prison in 1999.

 That boy, who is now 18, has had a series of problems, including sexual abuse by a relative when he was 5 years old, that can explain the emotional difficulties his lawyers are trying to blame on abuse by McKeown, the diocese's attorneys said.

 A Juvenile Court referee granted McKeown joint custody of the boy, identified in the Circuit Court documents as "John Doe 1," with the consent of the boy's divorced mother in 1998. John Doe 1's mother asked McKeown to let the boy live with him in 1997, after the boy molested his sister and ran away from home numerous times, the church lawyers said.

 Lawyers for the diocese have also filed an affidavit from McKeown, who denies that he ever molested the second boy, "John Doe 2," now 19, who is suing him and the Diocese of Nashville.

 That boy's mother has said Mc-Keown admitted to her in 1995 that he had played strip poker with her son and that he left the priesthood because of sexual misconduct with boys.

 She asked Metro police to investigate, but a detective said that John Doe 2 did not describe any sexual abuse to him during an interview in 1995. The detective never questioned McKeown, who then worked for the Metro property assessor's office and for a private company that processes child support payments at Juvenile Court.

 McKeown said in the affidavit filed recently by the diocese's lawyers that he "gained favor" with John Doe 1 not by having been a priest but "by allowing him to do things that he would normally not be allowed to do, such as smoking cigarettes and providing him with beer."

 His admitted sexual abuse of that boy, beginning when the boy was 12, resulted in a 25-year prison sentence for McKeown, who is now 57.

 Metro police said McKeown told them, once they began questioning him about his relationship with John Doe 1, that he had molested 21 young males, many of them while he served as a priest in Middle and East Tennessee in 1970-89, including work as a teacher at Father Ryan High School here. He has been charged criminally only with molesting John Doe 1.

 McKeown also said in the affidavit filed in Circuit Court that the Diocese of Nashville paid for him to get counseling and shots of Depo-Provera, a drug that decreases male sex drive, after he was "fired" by the church in 1989. But, McKeown said, he decided to stop the counseling and the shots a couple of years later.

 Retired Bishop James D. Niedergeses said in an affidavit filed by church attorneys that he confronted McKeown the day after a woman reported in 1986 that McKeown had molested her son in 1972 when her son was a 14-year-old student at Father Ryan.

 Niedergeses said McKeown admitted molesting the boy and agreed to go to a church-related treatment center in Maryland for evaluation. The bishop said he then sent McKeown to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Conn., for six months of inpatient treatment.

 Niedergeses said McKeown was assigned to the diocese's RENEW program for adults when he returned to Nashville in mid-1987, but it became obvious when that program ended early in 1989 that it would be hard to find McKeown another job in the Diocese of Nashville that did not involve contact with children.

 Another church official said Niedergeses was upset when he learned that McKeown was spending time with young boys in mid-1988 and that he had given a condom to a young male cousin "as a prank" at a family Christmas party in 1988. Diocese officials had also received a complaint early in 1988 that McKeown had molested a 14-year-old boy in East Tennessee four years earlier.

 The retired bishop said he told McKeown in February 1989 that the priest would have to look for work in another diocese or leave the priesthood. He said McKeown responded with a demand for money "in exchange for his leaving the priesthood."

 Niedergeses said that eventually he agreed to pay $1,500 a month in "charitable support" to help ease McKeown's transition to "the workaday world." The bishop said that amount was later reduced to $880 a month. Niedergeses said he retired as bishop in 1992 and had no further involvement with Mc-Keown until he learned from the news media in 1999 that the former priest had been arrested.

 Each of the two boys who filed suit is asking for $8 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages from McKeown, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nashville and Frank Richards, another former priest who allegedly knew about McKeown's sexual abuse of boys but did not warn anyone.

 Lawyers for the two boys had earlier sought damages also from the Metro government for its alleged failure to protect the boys from McKeown and from two Nashville physicians who treated McKeown at the request of church officials in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The boys' claims against Metro and the physicians were dismissed late last year.

 The two boys' lawsuits, which were filed in January 2000, were initially based largely on a state law requiring that anyone who knows of child sexual abuse report it to child-welfare authorities.

 But Judge Kurtz ruled in November that the boys' lawyers made an overly "broad interpretation" of Tennessee's child-abuse reporting statute.

 Kurtz dismissed a large part of the lawsuits after finding that John Does 1 and 2 "are simply too far removed in time and place from the alleged nonreporting of abuse to have an action for negligence per se" under the abuse-reporting statute.

 Kurtz's ruling meant that the diocese no longer had any need to prove that others who knew of McKeown's sexual tendencies -- including his earlier victims -- were legally "at fault" for failing to report him to law enforcement.

 Attempts by church attorneys to use the legal doctrine of "comparative fault" as a defense had stirred controversy within the local Catholic community, in which some prominent laypeople said church officials were trying to "blame the victims" to limit damages the diocese might have to pay in the two lawsuits.

 Lawyers for the two boys are now pursuing damages from Mc-Keown, the church and Richards under the legal theory of outrageous conduct.

 The two boys met McKeown when he lived in a trailer park in Antioch in the mid-1990s.

 Lawyers for the diocese say that, while John Doe 2's mother voiced her concerns about McKeown to the police, the managers of the trailer park and members of her church, no one told the family of John Doe 1 about any problems with McKeown when they moved to the trailer park later in 1995.

 The two boys' lawyers contend that the church should be held liable for not doing more to stop Mc-Keown's sexual abuse of children and to warn people outside the church after McKeown was removed from the priesthood in 1989.

 The boys' lawyers allege that church officials' "acts and omissions" amount to "outrageous conduct," which was "designed to shield the Diocese of Nashville from liability ... and to protect the Diocese of Nashville from embarrassment ..."

 Kirk Loggins covers courts for The Tennessean.