Church could have done more to stop abuse, victim says
by LAURA FRANK
July 23, 2002
Pedophile priest pictured with teens at church camp despite orders to avoid children
A man who was repeatedly raped as a teenager by a former Nashville priest has stepped forward to say that Catholic church leaders didn't do enough to protect him and other victims.
R.J. Mathew, now 25, says he wants the public to know how Edward McKeown was able to continue sexually abusing boys even after church leaders learned that McKeown was a pedophile.
Diocese officials have said they were not responsible for abuse that occurred after McKeown was put on inactive status in 1989 because of his pedophilia. McKeown was warned to stay away from children even before going on inactive status, church records show.
But Mathew and his parents say that as late as 1996 McKeown was allowed to participate in youth activities at St. Ignatius church in Antioch, where he had once lived. And the Mathews have pictures of McKeown mixing with teens at Camp Marymount, a camp run by the Nashville Diocese, in 1993.
Mathew, who attended St. Ignatius, was abused by McKeown from 1990 to 1993, according to statements McKeown gave after his 1999 arrest on charges he raped another boy.
McKeown is in prison on a 1999 conviction in that case.
Rick Musacchio, a spokesman for the Catholic diocese, declined to comment, citing a lawsuit against the church that is under appeal.
Mathew's story is unusual in that he says he first revealed it during confession with another priest.
Mathew said it was just before Easter in 1992 that he sat down to confession at St. Ignatius with the Rev. John Henrick and told his dark secret.
Mathew, who was 14 at the time, said the priest told him to pray about the abuse.
Mathew said that was the last he ever heard from any official of the Nashville Diocese regarding the abuse. McKeown continued to abuse him for a year after he told Henrick about it, Mathew said.
Henrick said he did not remember Mathew's having revealed any abuse to him.
"I am absolutely sure I do not remember that at all,'' Henrick said. And even if Mathew did reveal abuse during confession, church law would prevent him from reporting it to anyone, Henrick said. (See story, below.)
Henrick is still pastor of St. Ignatius, where church leaders sent McKeown to live after he received treatment for pedophilia in 1987. McKeown later told police he sexually abused at least four children from the parish.
Mathew is one of the victims McKeown named to police when he was arrested in 1999. Mathew said he decided to speak publicly now about the abuse in hopes that revealing how a known pedophile was able to continue abusing children might help prevent a similar situation in the future.
"I think he should remember,'' Mathew said of Henrick. "I do recall sitting down during confession and telling him. His facial expression was one of shock."
Henrick said in an interview with The Tennessean that he had not known McKeown was a pedophile. Neither, he said, had he known that McKeown had regular contact with children at the church even after diocese officials reached an agreement with McKeown to end his priestly duties.
"If he did, it certainly was not a whole lot of times,'' Henrick said in the interview.
Bishop Edward Kmiec said in 1999 that youth leaders at St. Ignatius were not told about McKeown's pedophilia. "It was most regrettable," he said. "Some information could have been shared."
Mathew's parents say they were active with the church's youth programs and so was McKeown.
"Every youth meeting we had, the guy would show up," Mathew's father said. "When we left around 1996, he was still involved.
"The very least they could have done is warn the youth group leaders so that someone could have watched him,'' said the father, Dan Mathew. "I hope by talking about this now, it will prevent anything like this from ever happening again. You can't imagine how we feel. We feel like we didn't protect our son.''
Officials from the Nashville Diocese say they first learned in 1986 that McKeown had sexually abused a child. After returning from church-ordered treatment for pedophilia in 1987, where he admitted he had abused multiple children, McKeown was sent to live at the St. Ignatius rectory.
The Rev. Ed Alberts was pastor at St. Ignatius then, and no one from the diocese told him about McKeown's pedophilia, according to excerpts of his sworn testimony, made public in May when a legal brief in a failed lawsuit against the church was unsealed at The Tennessean's request.
Alberts, now at Holy Family Catholic Church in Brentwood, later learned about McKeown but said it was "not my responsibility" to warn Henrick when Henrick replaced him at St. Ignatius, according to the brief. The brief did not make clear how Alberts had learned of it.
One of McKeown's doctors gave diocese officials clear instructions in 1987 to keep McKeown away from children, according to an excerpt of his letter in the legal brief.
However, McKeown was on a 1989 list of priests allowed to hear children's confessions at St. Ignatius, according to the brief. And Mathew remembers that around that time he saw McKeown sitting in an area where priests awaited parishioners who wanted to confess.
McKeown also was allowed to participate in St. Ignatius youth activities, according to excerpts of sworn testimony from Alberts.
The Nashville Diocese officials say they cannot comment on what is contained in the brief because they believe they are bound by a lower court order sealing documents to which the brief refers. The brief, filed by lawyers for two boys suing the church, uses excerpts of those sealed documents to summarize testimony in the case.
The new statements by the Mathews confirm several aspects of testimony summarized in the brief.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals is set to hear an appeal of the $70 million lawsuits Aug. 5. Mathew gave sworn testimony for the case but is not involved in the lawsuit.
McKeown began abusing Mathew when Mathew was a 12-year-old eighth-grader, according to Mathew and McKeown's account.
Mathew said his family so trusted McKeown that they lent him some $16,000 to buy a mobile home, where he lived at one point after leaving the rectory at St. Ignatius. It was there that McKeown gave Mathew and other boys alcohol and played strip poker. When the game was over, some of the neighborhood boys went home. But McKeown persuaded Mathew's parents to allow him to spend the night, his father said. McKeown told police he raped Mathew and that Mathew was his first victim after leaving treatment.
Mathew finally confronted McKeown about the abuse. He says McKeown threatened him to keep silent.
"He told me my parents loaned him money and if I ever told, they were linked to him and he'd take them down with him.''
The abuse finally stopped when Mathew, at 16, could fight off McKeown, Mathew said. Mathew's parents did not learn of the abuse until McKeown admitted it after his 1999 arrest.
As an adolescent, Mathew said, he was frightened and confused by the abuse. Today, a grown man with a family of his own, Mathew says he is sometimes angry that church leaders did not do more to protect him and other boys from a known pedophile. Mathew has publicly identified himself for the first time in hopes that sharing his story will prevent anything like that from happening again.
"It's up to the people in the pews to say, 'You're not going to do this,' " Mathew said. Church leaders "have hurt a lot of people and put a bad name of the faith. People trusted them and they've taken the trust and destroyed it, taken advantage of it and manipulated followers.''