Diocese of Nashville settles with victim who alleges 2017 sexual assault by campus priest

By: - July 21, 2020 5:13 pm
Main entrance to Aquinas College in Nashville. (Photo: Aquinas College)

Main entrance to Aquinas College in Nashville. (Photo: Aquinas College)

A former female student at Aquinas College in Nashville entered into a confidential settlement for $65,000 with the Catholic Diocese of Nashville in May over allegations a priest sexually assaulted her in his off-campus rectory in 2017.

The settlement was first reported Saturday by the Catholic Herald, a London-based publication.

The woman, who was not identified by the Catholic Herald nor in a Nashville police report of the incident, alleged that Father Kevin McGoldrick, now 46, routinely invited her and other students to his off-campus residence at Aquinas College and served them bourbon.

The priest was popular among students, performing and recording original music described as “bluesy pop sounds” in Catholic newsletters that have since scrubbed stories about him from websites.

In August 2017, according to the police report, the woman was at McGoldrick’s apartment with another female student. They all ate and drank bourbon before the other student had to leave.

The woman, a 22-year-old college student at the time of the incident, told police she felt safe with the priest, who kept serving her alcoholic drinks. Eventually she vomited. The priest gave her another drink, she told police, then “began telling her how lonely he was and at some point ended up over near her on the couch.”

The priest began kissing her neck and touching her breasts “both on top and underneath her clothing,” as she faded in and out of consciousness, according to the police report.

The next day, the woman told the Catholic Herald, the priest told her it “wasn’t a big deal” and that “if I cared about him at all I would just keep it between us, that we could pretend it never happened, that this would be better for both of us.”

“I had gone with my friend to the rectory of the chaplain I admired as his spiritual daughter,” the woman was quoted as saying. “I left as a suicidal victim of sexual assault.”

The woman reported the incident two years later to the Diocese of Nashville, which did not open a formal investigation. She sent a written account of her experience to the Archbishop of Philadelphia, McGoldrick’s home diocese.

The woman filed a report with Nashville police, dated February 28, 2020. The District Attorney’s office declined to pursue charges, citing a statute of limitations on the charge of “forcible fondling.”

McGoldrick had been “on loan” to the Diocese of Nashville, where he served as a chaplain on the Aquinas campus beginning in 2013, a statement from the Philadelphia Diocese said. The campus is the location of the co-ed pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade Overbrook School, the all-girls St. Cecilia Academy high school as well as co-ed Aquinas College. The schools are owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Cecilia.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said Tuesday leaders had immediately launched an investigation after receiving the woman’s report in July 2019. The results of that investigation, led by a former assistant district attorney for Philadelphia, were presented to Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“Based on the facts, Archbishop Chaput found the allegation to be credible,” the spokesman said. McGoldrick was restricted from the public exercise of his priestly duties. Later, the priest voluntarily requested to be removed from the priesthood. His petition is in process with the Vatican, the spokesman said.

The Philadelphia diocese did not respond to a request for an interview or statement from McGoldrick.

The woman’s complaint to the Diocese of Nashville in March 2019 was conveyed, “within an hour of making her report” to the Dominican Sisters Congregation, spokesman Rick Mussachio said. Mussachio said McGoldrick did not serve under the authority of the Nashville diocese, which had received a clean background check and a letter of good standing from Philadelphia that allowed him to serve as a campus chaplain.

The woman’s report to the diocese at that time did not include allegations of sexual assault, Mussachio said.

A statement from the Dominican Sisters said they had received a complaint from the Nashville Diocese about a woman accusing McGoldrick of “imprudent and unprofessional behavior” that did not identify the woman or indicate she had been a student at the time.

“The information we received from the Diocese of Nashville did not include any accusation of sexual assault,” the statement said.

“In light of these circumstances, the Congregation chose to allow Father McGoldrick’s contract to come to an end at the conclusion of that semester in 2019,” the statement said.

The woman then approached the Sisters directly in February of this year. After that meeting, the Congregation of St. Cecilia contacted the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the statement said.

“We take very seriously any charges of this nature,” the statement said. “Had the Congregation initially known the seriousness of the allegations and that the woman was a student at the time of the incident we would have immediately taken more severe action regarding Father McGoldrick. However, unfortunately, that was not how the situation unfolded.”

Efforts to reach the unidentified woman were unsuccessful. Musacchio said her attorney asked that neither the attorney’s name nor his or her client’s name be released to the public.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.