Church silent on priest's abuse as it helped him work with kids, files show

Star Tribune, Minnesota/June 8, 2014

By Tony Kenned

The Rev. Timothy McCarthy was the “kids’ pastor” who wore sneakers under his vestments and dropped profanities into his sermons. Girls had crushes on him, and parents let their children go camping with him.

When McCarthy abruptly resigned the priesthood in 1991, he told his flock at the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Maplewood that he had outgrown Catholic Church dogma. He was quitting, he said, to go down a new spiritual path.

But newly released files reveal that the church ousted McCarthy after allegations that he sexually abused two boys early in his career and later engaged in an exploitative sexual relationship with a college student. Despite those concerns, the church helped McCarthy gain credentials that allowed him to work closely with teenagers and young adults. He later lost his job as a Hennepin County correctional officer after being accused of criminal sexual conduct with a 17-year-old.

McCarthy’s previously hidden history is laid out in documents that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis divulged under an order from a Ramsey County district judge in a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit brought by St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson. The court order has triggered the release of more than 70,000 pages of classified memos about more than 45 accused priests — and could bring more litigation under a change in Minnesota law that allows people to bring claims of long-ago abuse.

The McCarthy case goes to the heart of accusations that have been leveled against church leaders since the sex abuse scandal erupted late last summer: The archdiocese didn’t disclose complaints to law enforcement or parishioners, even as they moved priests from church to church. In many instances, archdiocesan leaders continued to provide financial support for many accused priests or helped them gain other employment without ever disclosing abuse complaints.

In McCarthy’s case, records show that a psychologist hired by the archdiocese concluded that the sexual misconduct that finally led to his removal was borderline criminal, but there’s no indication that police were ever called.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens said church officials who managed McCarthy’s priesthood are gone or no longer in position to make the kind of decisions that kept McCarthy in ministry. Today’s standards would have halted McCarthy early in his career and informed parishioners, Cozzens said.

Also, “We would not recommend a priest who had been credibly accused of sexual contact with a minor to go into counseling of minors,” he said.

McCarthy, reached at his home in Landfall, said he disagrees with the release of his file. “We have no crime,” he said. “There is no crime.” Now 67 and collecting an archdiocesan pension, McCarthy said he had no interest in answering questions.

Cozzens said the priest has denied abuse allegations — a factor in Archbishop John Nienstedt’s decision not to push for his involuntary removal from the priesthood. “At this point, he is prohibited from functioning as a priest and will never return to ministry,” Cozzens said.

Officials at the University of St. Thomas, where McCarthy counseled students while in graduate school, and the Minnesota Board of Social Work say the archdiocese never warned them that McCarthy faced a criminal probe and was sent to a year of treatment as a consequence.

“If McCarthy applied today and we were aware of this information, we would not accept him,” university spokesman Doug Hennes said.

The former priest who supervised McCarthy’s counseling work, according to state records, said he also was unaware of that past when he strongly recommended McCarthy for social work licensure.

McCarthy’s social work license, his outwardly unblemished record as a priest who worked with young people and his counseling experience would have helped his 1992 application to become a juvenile correctional officer in Hennepin County, said Craig Riggs, who now heads the Juvenile Detention Center.

“That would have been enough to get his foot in the door,” Riggs said.

In 1999, seven years into his county job, McCarthy was charged with a felony for allegedly having sex with a 17-year-old boy at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center. McCarthy was acquitted, but the county fired him for “repeated inappropriate physical contact” with the boy, his dismissal notice said. McCarthy protested, but the state Court of Appeals sided against him, writing that his behavior demonstrated a “shocking disregard of his duties and obligations.”

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