A Brisbane priest dies after being charged in court with an alleged sexual offence

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated on 8 November 2017

A Queensland Catholic priest, Fr Michael Joseph McKeaten was charged by police in court on 31 May 2017 regarding a sexual offence that allegedly occurred earlier in his priestly career. Court documents alleged that, in 1991-1992, a male altar-server had asked Father McKeaten for counselling regarding a personal matter. During this "counseling", Fr McKeaten allegedly persuaded the victim to engage in a naked wrestle with the priest, in order (the priest said) to "relieve stress". Fr McKeaten was charged with procuring a sexual act by false pretext. The May 2017 hearing was a brief one in which the magistrate ordered Fr McKeaten to appear in court later in 2017 for the next step in the court process. However, Fr McKeaten died before the next hearing could be held. The Brisbane archdiocese then honoured Fr McKeaten with a priestly funeral.

Father Michael McKeaten had ministered at several parishes in the Brisbane diocese, most recently Beaudesert. He was about to move from Beaudesert to take charge of four parishes in Ipswich but, during May 2017, police interviewed him (at a police station) and laid the charge against him.

On 23 May 2017 the Brisbane Catholic Archdiocese announced that "a priest" had withdrawn from active ministry after notifying the archdiocese about the police charge. The May 23 statement did not give the name of the priest.

According to daily listings on the Brisbane Magistrates Court's website, Michael McKeaten's case had its introductory hearing in court on 31 May 2017, when prosecutors officially filed the charge, with next court date to be scheduled for later in 2017.

According to police documents mentioned in court, the police charge concerned Father McKeaten's time at the Stafford parish in Brisbane's north, between July 1991 and December 1992.

Police alleged that an altar-server at the church approached Fr McKeaten for counselling about issues with his home life. During this "counselling", Father McKeaten persuaded the altar-server that the best way to relieve stress would be to have a naked wrestle with the priest. During this naked wrestle, the pair mauled each other's genitals.

On 31 May 2017, after the case's first mention in court, the Brisbane Catholic archdiocese issued a statement, saying:

"Michael McKeaten – a priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane – today appeared in Brisbane Magistrate’s Court charged with a sexual offence alleged to have occurred more than two decades ago... Michael McKeaten withdrew from ministry when he was charged earlier this month. The Archdiocese issued a public statement at the time to confirm the charge and the priest’s removal from ministry."

The archdiocese's May 31 statement gave the phone number of the church's professional standards office which could "assist" any complainant in going to police concerning any church-related abuse matter. However, the archdiocese's statement failed to publish any phone number for the police.

Soon after being charged, Fr McKeaten became ill. He died on 22 October 2017, a funeral notice was published (on 26 October 2017) saying:

"Archbishop Mark Coleridge invites the Clergy, Religious and people of the Archdiocese of Brisbane and all Relatives and Friends to participate in the Funeral Mass, for Father Michael Joseph McKeaten, to be celebrated at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 312 Cavendish Road, Coorparoo, on Thursday 26th October 2017 at 11.30a.m. Following Mass, the Funeral will proceed to Nudgee Cemetery for the right of Christian Burial."

At the cemetery, the archdiocese honoured Fr McKeaten by providing a grave for him in the cemetery's special section reserved for priests.

Fr McKeaten's long career in the Brisbane diocese included parishes at Annerley, Bulimba, St Stephen's Cathedral, Surfers Paradise, Sunnybank, Stafford, Indooroopilly, Booval and most recently Beaudesert.