Defrocked Kavanagh calls self ‘…a priest forever.’

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the strange, eight-year case of Monsignor Charles Kavanagh had come to an end.

A Roman Catholic Church court defrocked Kavanagh, who had once been among the most visible and influential priests in the Archdiocese of NY.

Kavanagh had been accused by a former seminarian named Daniel Donohue, who grew up in Peekskill, of manipulating him into a romantic relationship with sexual overtones during the late 1970s. At the time, Kavanagh had been head of the seminary where Donohue was studying.

Donohue first wrote to the archdiocese in 2002 after — he once told me — he started reading about the sex-abuse crisis that erupted that year. At that time, Kavanagh was the chief fundraiser for the archdiocese (that’s him on the right during happier times for him.

I won’t reconstruct everything that happened since then, but the case lingered for eight years. Everyone involved complained about a lack of justice.

People disagreed vehemently about it. I heard from many Kavanagh supporters and others who thought that Kavanagh did Donohue wrong.

There was a lot of debate — and still is — about the nature of the allegations. Donohue essentially accused Kavanagh of using his position to manipulate him into a boyfriend-ish relationship. He said that Kavanagh once got into bed with him wearing only underwear.

Through the years, Kavanagh has dismissed the charges — and the church’s investigative process — in very public ways, even wearing his clerical collar after Cardinal Egan told him not to. He has periodically sent letters about his case to his many friends and supporters.

Kavanagh, 73, has just sent out another one. A bunch of people have forwarded it to me.

It begins:

*****

I hope you had a blessed Christmas. I celebrated my 47th Anniversary of Ordination on December 18th and on the evening before that, the Archdiocese announced that I had been found guilty of a crime.

Words cannot describe how I feel. In almost fifty years, working with thousands of young people, I have never sexually abused anyone. No one has ever claimed that I sexually touched them and yet the Church has decided that all the times I was kind, (helping with tuition,driving a student home, buying a birthday gift, taking someone to a ballgame,) was “grooming” and that gestures like “hugging” and “holding hands” were crimes deserving the most severe penalty. I have been found guilty of the crime of “holding hands on the lap” which the Church has decided is a serious sin against the 6th commandment because it is considered physical contact with parts of the body which are
considered indecent.”

I cannot tell you how unjust this decision is and how I will never stop my fight to clear my name. I am so proud of my years of service and have been silent all these years hoping that I would be treated fairly.

*****

Kavanagh writes that after he was accused, he became “damaged goods” and that he was denied due process because the church wanted to cover up its own mistakes.

He also quotes what he says is a letter to him from Donohue, circa 1983, in which the writer speaks of Kavanagh as a great friend and mentor.

Summing up the eight-year case, Kavanagh writes:

*****

Any “case” which takes over eight years to decide cannot be fair. Any process which is so secret that one cannot talk publicly, or is not allowed to see evidence beforehand, or cross examine witnesses, cannot be fair. How can one defend himself against false statements and fabricated evidence when he is sworn to silence? In over forty years of priestly service how does one become a “predator” when there is a single claim of “inappropriate behavior” thirty years old, which involved no contact beyond hugging and holding hands? How can someone be considered a “threat to minors”, when I have worked so long with young people without even a hint of suspicion? There is much more to this story, which only compounds my feeling of injustice. Literally thousands of people have stood by me during these eight years. I do not know what the future holds but I  believe that the Lord is working in my life. I will never give up my fight for justice. I pray that people will stand with me in this struggle. I know what it means to give one’s life in service to God’s People, to be a priest forever!

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.