A Monsignor Is Defrocked for Abusing a Student

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The New York Times

Published: December 17, 2010


A once-influential Roman Catholic monsignor who oversaw fund-raising for the Archdiocese of New York, running the annual Alfred E. Smith political dinner during the tenure of Cardinal John J. O’Connor, has been removed from the priesthood after an eight-year church review of sexual abuse accusations against him, the archdiocese announced on Friday.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Msgr. Charles M. Kavanagh, in a 2003 photo, was defrocked by a Roman Catholic church tribunal that reviewed allegations that he sexually abused a seminarian in the 1980s. He was one of the highest-ranking priests in New York to face accusations of sexual misconduct.

The monsignor, Charles M. Kavanagh, 73, has denied the charges, which were brought against him by a former student at the former Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan. The monsignor contested an archdiocesan review board’s finding of guilt in 2003, then asked the Vatican to authorize a formal trial by a tribunal of priests from another diocese. When that body also found him guilty, he sought an appeal from a second tribunal.

On Wednesday, the second tribunal concluded its review, ruling that Monsignor Kavanagh should be defrocked, said Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the New York archdiocese. The announcement was made after two days, late on a Friday afternoon, because “we have not dealt with this kind of situation before,” Mr. Zwilling said.

Nineteen priests in the archdiocese have been discharged from the priesthood since 2002, when a sexual abuse scandal shook the church nationwide, but Monsignor Kavanagh is the only one who has pursued the full complement of appeals available to him, Mr. Zwilling said. He is also one of the highest-ranking local priests to have been caught up in the accusations.

Daniel Donohue, 46, the former seminarian who accused Monsignor Kavanagh of making unwanted advances and touching him inappropriately in the 1980s, said, “I’m glad for the validation of my credibility.” But he criticized the slowness and opacity of the church’s judicial process. “For eight years, I never knew where the process was,” he said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he lives with his wife and four children. “I have classmates who are going through similar processes. I just hope it doesn’t take eight years for them, too.”

Mr. Donohue first took his accusations to the archdiocese and the Manhattan district attorney’s office in 2002. Within months, following initial investigations by both authorities, the archdiocese ordered the monsignor to halt his active ministry. Throughout the process of review, trial and appeal, the archdiocese released no information about the case except to confirm that it was continuing.

In a statement on Friday, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, a successor to Cardinal O’Connor, said: “Although all of this took place before my arrival as archbishop, I am well aware of the seriousness of the charges involved in this case, and I am grateful for the careful way that it has been handled by my predecessor, Cardinal Egan, and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I would like to take this occasion to renew our apologies to all those who have been harmed by the sin and crime of sexual abuse, and in particular to apologize to the gentleman who was the victim in this case.”

Monsignor Kavanagh was rector at Cathedral Prep at the time of the sexually charged events described by Mr. Donohue. He was later a much-admired pastor at St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx, and in 1994 Cardinal O’Connor appointed him the archdiocese’s vicar of development. His stature in the church hierarchy was further cemented when he was asked to organize the cardinal’s funeral in 2000.

Supporters flocked to defend Monsignor Kavanagh after the accusations were made. He was defiant at a dinner in his honor in 2003, telling a banquet hall filled with 300 friends that he had never abused anybody. “My integrity is in place,” he said. “I will be vindicated.”

A family spokesman said Friday that the former monsignor would not comment. In a statement, Ann Mandt, who identified herself as former Monsignor Kavanagh’s sister and lawyer, said he remained adamant that he had never abused Mr. Donohue or anyone else. But, she added, he is now disillusioned with the church.

“After more than eight years,” she wrote, “he and his family now know that the church, in reaction to its own mistakes and as a way of ‘cleaning up a mess’ it created, has decided that ‘the good of the church’ must come before a person’s rights and any sense of due process.”

The statement concluded: “He is an innocent man, and he will never give up his fight for justice. We pray that people will stand with him in this struggle.”

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