The Archdiocese of New York on Friday suspended its vicar for development, the metropolitan area’s highest-ranking priest so far entangled in the church’s sex abuse scandal.
Msgr. Charles Kavanagh, 64, who also serves as pastor of St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx, was placed on indefinite leave from both positions based on allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with an underage male 20 years ago, according to Joe Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
At the time of the alleged relationship, Kavanagh was on the staff of Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan.
As vicar for development – a post he has held since 1994 – Kavanagh has been in charge of fund-raising for the archdiocese. He has been pastor at St. Raymond’s, one of the largest Catholic parishes in the Bronx, since 1988.
He was at least the eighth priest suspended by the archdiocese since March in connection with the sex abuse scandal. Most of the suspensions have been based on old complaints contained in archdiocesan files that were handed over to prosecutors this spring.
The allegation against Kavanagh, however, was not contained in the files, Zwilling said. Instead, a complaint was lodged recently with the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
The accuser subsequently notified the archdiocese.
“We only learned of this last week,” Zwilling said.
A spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau declined to comment.
On Thursday, the archdiocese removed a visiting priest from India assigned to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem, where he had served for three years. His removal came after his arrest on charges he fondled a Brooklyn girl in 1999, while assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea in Carroll Gardens.
The priest, the Rev. Francis Nelson, 38, was dismissed by church officials in Brooklyn. But he found an assignment in Manhattan based on recommendations from his home bishop in India, according to Zwilling, who said officials in Manhattan were unaware of the Brooklyn allegations until this week.
David Clohessy, national director for the clergy victims’ abuse organization, Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said Friday that his group recommended a national database of abusive priests about eight years ago. An ad hoc committee of priests studying sexual abuse never acted on the recommendation, Clohessy said.
“We said you ought to be able to click on the National Council of Bishops’ Web site and pull up a list of [abusive] priests,” Clohessy said. “Otherwise, they turn around and get other jobs.”
Such a database would have helped to prevent someone such as Nelson from moving from one diocese to another even after sexual abuse complaints were lodged against him, Clohessy said.
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