The longtime senior Roman Catholic chaplain for the San Francisco Police Department was indicted Thursday on charges that he molested two brothers 40 years ago, authorities said.
Monsignor John P. Heaney, 75, served as chaplain to the SFPD for 35 years before he was relieved of those duties by the San Francisco Archdiocese last summer, just before the allegations against him were made public.
Heaney was indicted on multiple felony counts, those familiar with the case said. Prosecutors were tight-lipped about details of the indictment, which will be unsealed after Heaney is arrested. Mark MacNamara, spokesman for District Attorney Terence Hallinan’s office, had no comment on the case.
Heaney’s attorney, Jim Collins, said the retired priest will turn himself in next week.
“Monsignor Heaney will surrender — he will fight these charges,” Collins said. “This is an impeccable man who has done more good works in the last 40 years than any 50 people put together.’
Heaney’s indictment is the latest bad news for a church buffeted for more than a year by molestation scandals around the country.
Under policies approved by U.S. bishops last summer, the San Francisco Archdiocese has furnished prosecutors with the names of at least 40 current and former priests and lay employees who have been the targets of sexual abuse complaints. Several priests in the archdiocese, which includes Marin and San Mateo counties in addition to San Francisco, have been forced into retirement.
The case against Heaney stems from a complaint lodged with San Francisco’s Child Protective Services last year. According to authorities, one alleged victim told his therapist he had been molested by Heaney as a boy in the early 1960s. By law, the therapist was required to pass along the report to authorities.
Investigators contacted the man’s brother, who also said Heaney had molested him, authorities have said. Neither brother knew of the other brother being victimized, authorities said.
Heaney who was already retired but still preaching when the allegations surfaced last summer was barred by the archdiocese then from saying Mass.
Maurice Healy, spokesman for archdiocese, said he would have no comment on the case.
Heaney was ordained in 1953, taught at Sacred Heart parochial school in San Francisco and long served a maritime and transient population as part of his ministry, based at the Chapel of Apostleship of the Sea. The chapel, created to tend to sailors and merchant seamen at Harrison and Fremont streets near the Embarcadero, closed in the mid-1990s.
Heaney started ministering to the Police Department in the 1960s, a position in which he made himself available to officers who needed counseling and to families of fallen or injured officers. Before the allegations surfaced,
he was holding services for about 100 police officers and their families.
Former Police Chief Fred Lau said he was shocked that Heaney had been indicted.
“He’s so special to so many people oh, my goodness,” Lau said. “He’s still got to go through the process. It’s a shame. I’ll tell you, it’s going to devastate the department.”
Lau, now head of security at Oakland International Airport, said the monsignor attended funerals and ministered to countless officers. “He oversaw births, burials, promotions, he was always there now it’s time for us to be there for him.”
William Welch, a retired deputy SFPD chief and longtime friend of Heaney’s, said he will stand by him.
“John Heaney is the finest man I have ever met, whether priest or civilian, ” Welch said. “Anybody, no matter what their religious affiliation, he was there for them.”
Welch said Heaney was almost always the first to arrive at the hospital to comfort wounded officers and the last one to leave their side. He helped form the department’s unit to help officers deal with on-the-job stress.