A former Bronx priest is suing the New York Archdiocese for libel in a landmark lawsuit, claiming sex allegations brought against him were false.

A once influential Catholic monsignor, Charles Kavanagh, was defrocked from the priesthood in 2010 for the sexual abuse of a minor, after he was convicted in a 2006 canonical trial. An appeal to a second church tribunal also found him guilty in 2010.

Last Wednesday, lawyers for Kavanagh, now 75, filed the lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan, after the priest’s accuser, Daniel Donohue, told a federal judge last April that he had not been truthful about his allegations.

“No one has ever handled a case of this nature,” Kavanagh's attorney, John Dearie, told the Irish Voice.

“The significance of this is that the person who made the allegations 30 plus years ago has retracted it, apologized to the person and has asked that the archdiocese reconsider their decision to remove him from his ministry,” Dearie said.

A former vicar of development for the Catholic Church in New York, Kavanagh worked for more than 40 years as a priest. His final post was as head of St. Raymond's Church in the Bronx, before he was removed from his clerical work in a private church trial.

Currently residing in Florida, Kavanagh lost his home and his pension after being defrocked.

“He’s living off the support of family and friends,” Dearie said.

The alleged abuse took place between 1978 and 1982, when Daniel Donohue, now 48, was a student at Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in Manhattan, where Kavanagh acted as the rector.

In 2002, Donohue claimed that the Catholic Priest had repeatedly molested him.

According to court documents, a 2006 private church tribunal found Kavanagh guilty of holding hands with the high school student during prayer time. The church also concluded that the former priest had pressed up against the student in a bed during a school trip to Washington, D.C.

Kavanagh continued to proclaim his innocence and sued Donohue for libel. 

During the settlement of the case, Donohue retracted his claims of abuse during the Washington school trip, stating before a Federal judge in April: “I did not go on any such trip with Monsignor Kavanagh while I was in high school.”

“I have never intended that the church would deprive him of his ministry, and I hope the church will re-examine this decision and process,” he added.

Attorneys for Kavanagh sent the statement to the New York Archdiocese on April 29, hoping the case would be reopened. However, on May 1, Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, released a statement that said, “It should be noted that Mr. Kavanagh was found guilty by a church court of multiple counts of sexual abuse of a minor, and that this particular trip to Washington was not the basis for the court’s decision. Changing this one fact will not have any bearing on the court’s ruling, or on its penalty that Mr. Kavanagh be removed from the priesthood and returned to the lay state.”

Dearie described the statement as totally incorrect.  “The statement was defamatory in that it said he was charged with multiple counts,” he told the Irish Voice.

Kavanagh is now suing Zwilling, the archdiocese, the archdiocesan newspaper Catholic New York and its editor, John Woods, for libel.

“We want the opportunity to get his good name back,” Dearie, who is hopeful the case will go to trial, told the Irish Voice.

“I think Cardinal Egan has a lot of question to answer on the stand,” he said.

Dearie said his client wants to be reinstated, adding the former priest holds no contempt for the Catholic Church.

“In the ten years, I have never heard him utter one negative syllable about the church,” Dearie told the Irish Voice.

Kavanagh’s attorneys expect a decision about whether or not the case will proceed to trial to be announced in the coming six weeks.