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Oct 15, 2013 09:36 AM EDT

Catholic Professor Faces Civil Lawsuit for Engaging In Sexual Contact with Minor

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Rev. Michael Jerome Keating, a prominent Catholic priest and an assistant professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, is facing a civil lawsuit for allegedly sexually abusing a Twin Cities woman for over two years.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Ramsey County District Court.

Jim Accurso, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, told Star Tribune that the 57-year-old professor was currently on a voluntary leave of absence from his religious and teaching duties.

Keating is 29 years older than the alleged victim and the sexual abuse reportedly began when the plaintiff was 13 years old, about 15 years ago.

St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the woman, told Inforum that Keating, a friend of his client's family, frequently visited their Chisago County home.

The lawsuit accuses Keating of involving in numerous instances of 'unpermitted, harmful and offensive sexual contact' with the woman (now in her 20s) between 1997 and 2000, when he was a seminary student, Inforum reports.

Anderson branded the abuse as second-degree criminal sexual conduct and involved touching and other sexual behavior.

The victim claimed that the professor fondled her breasts, made her lie on top of him when he was aroused and woke her up in the middle of the night for back massages, Twin cities reports.

Anderson told Twin Cities that the professor kissed his client in French style, when she did not even know the meaning of it in the first place.

The woman experienced 'severe and permanent emotional distress, loss of self-esteem, humiliation and psychological injuries,' Inforum reports.

As a result, the plaintiff is seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

The lawsuit also stated that the woman (when she was 19) did approach St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese leaders including then-Archbishop Harry Flynn and his deputy, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, then-Chancellor of Civil Affairs Andrew Eisenzimmer, victim advocate Greta Sawyer and the Clergy Review Board in 2006- the same year Keating joined the university faculty.

"Based on the record as a whole, the board finds that there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of sexual abuse of a minor. The board "does not believe that the priest's faculties should be suspended, given his effectiveness in many areas of his work," according to a summary of the Clergy Review Board's findings sent to the woman's father in November 2007, Twin Cities reports.  

The summary suggested Keating be 'restricted in activities in the nature of retreats, spiritual counseling, or mentoring, particularly of adolescents or young adults' and be assigned a supervisor with 'ecclesiastical seniority.'

Accurso declined to comment whether any of the restrictions or supervision were followed.

Anderson told Star Tribune that it is "deeply troubling" to see Keating still serving in the ministry.

"The archdiocese should have immediately removed him from ministry and turned over what they knew to the authorities," Anderson told Inforum.

"This kind of callousness is one reason we urge victims to report to law enforcement officials, not church officials. It's heart-breaking to think about how hard this was on the victim," Barbara Dorris, outreach director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) told Twin Cities.

The same time that the victim reported the allegations to the Archdiocese leaders, her father filed a complaint with the law enforcement officials in 2006. A Chicago County sheriff's investigator along with an assistant county attorney concluded that there wasn't sufficient evidence to slap criminal charges against the professor.

The woman decided to file the suit against the professor now after seeing similar allegations against other Twin Cities archdiocese in the media.

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