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Ex-SR Priest Arrested in Mexico

Keegan Fled U.S. After Warrant for Arrest on Multiple Molest Charges

Mar 2, 2003 | THE PRESS DEMOCRAT Austin Peter Keegan, a former Catholic priest who was accused of molesting boys in Santa Rosa and San Francisco, was arrested Saturday in Mexico, the FBI said.

Keegan was indicted in September and fled the country after a $5 million warrant was issued for his arrest.

He was arrested Saturday in Puerto Vallarta, where authorities said he had been working in an orphanage.

"That's great news," said Don Hoard of Petaluma, an advocate for people abused by clergymen. "This guy was a monster, the type of person who would literally rape these kids."

Keegan, 67, was transferred from San Francisco to Santa Rosa in 1976. He was removed six years later after being accused of sexual misconduct with a child.

But the allegation didn't become public until Keegan and two other priests were named in a lawsuit against the church more than a decade later.

The church eventually paid $450,000 to settle a claim that Keegan had abused a boy at St. Eugene's Cathedral.

After the suit was filed, several people stepped forward, including the son of a former state senator and another priest, to say that church officials had ignored complaints about Keegan's predatory behavior for years, transferring him to new assignments instead of taking action against him.

The FBI said Keegan was living in Oceanside when he was indicted last fall. He could be extradited from Mexico within a week, FBI spokeswoman LaRay Quy said.

Once he is returned from Mexico, Keegan will be arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court, said Elliot Beckelman, the assistant San Francisco district attorney who heads the city's task force on clergy sexual abuse.

He said the indictment against Keegan includes 25 counts of child molestation and names two victims, both residents of San Francisco. He declined to provide details of the indictment because it has yet to be served on Keegan.

"Austin Peter Keegan is a serial child molester who devastated the lives of boys in San Francisco and in Santa Rosa, and, if his past behavior is any guide, in Mexico as well," Beckelman said Saturday.

"I would like to see him spend the rest of his life in prison, and that probably wouldn't be enough," he said.

Beckelman said he also had spoken with five men in Santa Rosa and that all of them were under 12 at the time that Keegan allegedly abused them.

In 1995, the Santa Rosa Diocese paid $450,000 to settle a lawsuit accusing Keegan of repeatedly molesting a boy at St. Eugene's Cathedral.

The suit, which also named former priests Gary Timmons and Patrick O'Shea, said Keegan molested boys as many as 50 times between 1979 and 1983. It also charged that church officials ignored knowledge that Keegan had molested boys in San Francisco before he was transferred to Santa Rosa.

Keegan was in Mexico at the time and blamed the lawsuit on "the lure of money," but declined to discuss the specifics of the charges.

He wasn't involved in the settlement.

In 1991, Keegan was accused of check fraud, according to Santa Rosa police records. He wasn't prosecuted. A year later, he filed for bankruptcy protection.

Along with Timmons and Don Kimball, Keegan is among the most notorious offenders from the Santa Rosa church.

Timmons was charged with abusing as many as 18 youths dating back to 1969. Convicted in 1996, he served four years in prison. He resigned from the church and is now a registered sex offender.

Kimball was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1981. A lawsuit alleging he molested two male and two female juveniles was settled for $1.6 million in 2000.

The San Francisco grand jury indictment against Keegan also named Salvatore Billante, a former youth ministry adviser who was charged with molesting a boy at a Lake County summer camp in 1989.

Billante, 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 was being held on $10 million bail.

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