Former priest returned; arraignment seen Monday 8, 2003
By Richard Somerville

Former priest Austin Peter Keegan, charged with the sexual assault of Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer 36 years ago, is back in San Francisco - behind bars.

He is expected to be arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court as early as Monday on 25 different counts of child molestation involving McAteer and another boy in the 1960s.

Keegan, 67, had been a fugitive in Mexico since being indicted by a San Francisco grand jury in September. He was arrested in the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta on Saturday as he approached an automatic teller machine that had been staked out by police.

He was flown to Los Angeles on Sunday, and then to San Francisco Friday, arriving about 4 a.m., according to the district attorney's office.

Assistant District Attorney Elliot Beckelman, who heads the city's task force on clergy sexual abuse, told Bay City News that Keegan's crimes extend far beyond the two victims cited in the indictment.

"Keegan is a serial child molester," he said. "He's notorious . . . He's the San Francisco poster boy of pedophiles."

District attorney's sex-crimes investigator Erin Gallagher has said that Keegan's crimes could include 80 individual cases.

Despite complaints about Keegan from McAteer and others, he was passed from parish to parish in the San Francisco archdiocese and Santa Rosa diocese for more than 20 years.

Details of the indictment are sealed until Keegan's arraignment, but it also names Salvatore Billante, 63, a former youth ministry adviser who was charged with molesting a boy at a Lake County summer camp in 1989.

Billante, known as "Brother Sal," a lay member of the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order, was indicted on 181 child molestation counts. He was arrested in September at his Redwood City home and is being held on $10 million bail.

In 1995, the San Francisco and Santa Rosa dioceses settled for $2.5 million a molestation lawsuit filed by 15 men against Keegan, Monsignor Patrick O'Shea and the Rev. Gary Timmons. The men said they were abused by the three priests as children between the late 1960s and early 1980s.

Keegan was out of reach in Mexico at the time. Timmons was sentenced in 1996 to an eight-year prison term after pleading guilty to molestation charges. He served four years, resigned from the church, and is now a registered sex offender, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

O'Shea, 63, avoided a similar fate last March after a judge threw out a 224-count felony complaint against him, saying the cases were too old to prosecute. He was indicted in September for allegedly abusing a former altar boy.

Trials for Keegan, O'Shea and Billante may be delayed until June because of a challenge to a new sex-crimes law that made it possible to avoid the six-year statute of limitations in certain child-molestation cases.

Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle religion writer, has explained that under the law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, a person of any age may come to police and lodge a complaint of sexual abuse that occurred when the complainant was under 18. From that point, assuming that other evidence is found, the police have one year to file charges. In Keegan's case, that expires next September.

However, in three separate cases around the state, Superior Court judges have said the new law cannot be applied retroactively. The issue is now awaiting a ruling by the California Supreme Court, possibly by late May.

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