McAteer hits a wall of denial
After being sexually assaulted by the beloved family priest at the Disneyland Hotel at age 10, a boy would go on to have a traumatic childhood, you might expect. You would be wrong, said Terry McAteer.
“I had a pretty normal childhood, actually,” for a kid whose father died while running for mayor of San Francisco and whose mother remained one of the most prominent social figures in the city.
Frances McAteer was named to the city recreation board, and the youngest of her three sons was often at her side, or escorting a debutante at the Cotillion, the city’s most exclusive social event.
Yet Terry McAteer was involved in the usual kid things, too, like sports. “I really shot up when I hit my teens, was really tall for my age, so basketball was my best sport,” he said. “I enjoyed track and handball, too.”
In response to those who might be surprised – especially looking back from today, when “post-traumatic stress syndrome” is the topic of features in popular magazines – McAteer said:
“I think it was different for me. I was 10. In a way, I was ‘asexual.’ But if I had been in puberty, 13 to 15, when it happened – working out my sexual feelings – it could have been a lot different.”
But still, for years after the incident it was not pleasant having Father Pete Keegan continue to be in the family’s life, escorting Frances McAteer to events and turning up on every holiday, perhaps with a boy or two by his side.
In 1977, as a 20-year-old history student at the University of California at Berkeley, Terry McAteer took a huge step.
“I finally realized the severity of what had happened to me. I put two and two together and understood why Father Keegan had been transferred from parish to parish. From St. Cecelia’s to St. Vincent de Paul, to Epiphany, to Mary’s Help Hospital. And so I went to the church.”
Until then, he had never told a soul about what Father Pete Keegan did to him – not even his mother.
McAteer asked Vincent Ring, his high school history teacher at St. Ignatius and now a close and respected friend – as well as a priest – to help him approach the Archdiocese of San Francisco. There, they spoke to the No. 2 man in charge, Father Patrick McGrath.
“I bared my soul,” said McAteer. “It was a pretty emotional day. It wasn’t so much that I needed to get it off my chest, but that I just knew other boys were involved.”
McGrath promised to talk to Archbishop John Quinn and get back to McAteer. Two weeks later came a letter saying that Keegan had just been transferred to a parish in Santa Rosa.
“He wrote that while they were sorry about what had happened to me, they had no other knowledge of this and were taking no other action,” said McAteer. “It was so unfair. I thought that they would do something about Father Keegan.”
McAteer said that he since has learned that the church knew about Keegan’s sexually abusive behavior long before McAteer told them.
“There had been multiple complaints. There was a police report in 1971. A parent had gone to the police. But in those days you didn’t go and haul a priest into jail! The police would say, ‘We’ll let the Archdiocese deal with this.’ The church had huge power in San Francisco.”
McAteer wasn’t deterred, however. He sent a letter to the bishop in Santa Rosa, warning him about his new priest.
“And Bishop Hurley wrote me saying, ‘thank you, but he’s not in a parish where he’ll have contact with children.’ Of course, now we know that many, many of the boys he molested were in Santa Rosa.”
(Both Archbishop Quinn and Bishop Hurley later resigned unexpectedly before retirement age, Quinn after 18 years in office and Hurley after 17. Hurley died in 2001.)
Terry McAteer said he was at the end of his rope. “I guess I could have gone to the courts. I didn’t think of that when I was 20. So, my life went on. But the great thing is – I kept all the copies of everything.”
McAteer finished his BA at Berkeley, then a history master’s with teaching credentials from San Francisco State. His first job as a teacher was at J. Eugene McAteer High School on Twin Peaks, named for his late father.
In 1979, while at San Francisco State, he met Liz Everett, a journalism major. And it was their decision to marry in 1984 that precipitated another critical moment in McAteer’s life.
“I had to go to my mom and say, ‘I want to tell you why I don’t want Father Keegan to say my ceremony.’ “
Her reaction at first was disbelief – “almost denial.” After all, Keegan had been a close family friend for more than 20 years. “By then my mother was in her mid-60s, and she comes from a Victorian world. She was not a confrontational person.”
But McAteer said that over time her reaction “went from denial to a deep-seated anger. She confronted Father Keegan at one point. He denied it all, and she cut him off totally. They went their separate ways.”
Friday: Going public.
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