McAteer relieved at priest’s capture
Even as he prepared to greet a visiting Japanese student at his home Sunday morning, Nevada County schools superintendent Terry McAteer was still absorbing the news: The fugitive priest who he said molested him 36 years ago had been arrested in Mexico.
“I had hoped they would find him,” said McAteer. “I’m very relieved. He needs to stand trial for hurting many, many boys in San Francisco, including myself.”
Austin Peter Keegan, 67, a former San Francisco priest who fled the country after a grand jury indicted him last year, was picked up Saturday in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta by FBI agents, officials from the U.S. attorney’s office in Northern California, and Mexican police.
In San Francisco, Keegan faces 25 counts of child molestation and sodomy over a 28-year span ending in 1992. The indictment names two victims, both residents of San Francisco. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
McAteer said he had just returned from a basketball game when he got a call from U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan, a personal friend. Ryan, who became involved in the case along with the FBI when Keegan fled the country, told McAteer that extradition of the ex-priest was expected in a few days.
McAteer is likely to be a key witness if the case goes to trial.
The son of a former state senator from San Francisco, McAteer, 45, came forward in 1994 to say that Keegan molested him at age 10 at the Disneyland Hotel, and that he had told the San Francisco Archdiocese about it in 1977. “What they did with that, thereafter, what their knowledge is, I don’t know,” McAteer said in an interview.
Keegan worked at several churches in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s, moving to the Santa Rosa Diocese 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.
The Santa Rosa Diocese eventually paid $450,000 to settle the claim in 1996. Keegan was in Mexico at the time and blamed the lawsuit on “the lure of money,” but didn’t respond to accusations. He wasn’t involved in the settlement.
After the civil suit was filed, McAteer and several others stepped forward to say that the church had ignored complaints for years, transferring him to new assignments instead of taking action against him.
By any standards, Keegan is considered one of the most notorious child predators. Authorities have said that he may have molested as many as 80 children before the church placed him on inactive duty about a decade ago.
At the time of the most recent indictment, last Sept. 12, he was working at an orphanage in the San Diego County town of Oceanside. A $5 million warrant was issued for his arrest, but when FBI agents went to seize him, he fled across the border to Tijuana, disappeared into Mexico, and has been hunted ever since.
Elliot Beckelman, the assistant San Francisco district attorney who heads the city’s task force on clergy sexual abuse, said Saturday that once Keegan is returned from Mexico he will be arraigned in San Francisco Superior Court. 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,” said Beckelman. “He’s a very bad one. It’s not just seduction and manipulation – he used force. I would like to see him spend the rest of his life in prison, and that probably wouldn’t be enough.”
“That’s great news,” Don Hoard of Petaluma, an advocate for people abused by clergymen, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. “This guy was a monster, the type of person who would literally rape these kids.”
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