Harriman man accuses years later former priest of sexual abuse

Harriman man accuses years later former priest of sexual abuse


6 News Reporter

HARRIMAN (WATE) - More claims of child abuse have surfaced against a former priest who had worked in Harriman and Lenoir City, among other areas in East Tennessee.

Ben Palko says he was "very young 12, 13, and 11," when he was sexually abused by former priest Edward McKeown. "Sometimes there would be pornography involved."

It has been a year since Palko had an emotional breakdown.

He said memories of the alleged sexual abuse became too much for him to handle. He has since lost his job and he is on disability.

Palko said alcohol was also present when he spent time with McKeown at his house behind Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Harriman, where he worked.

"I was scared to say anything, ashamed to say anything, was told by McKeown I was bad because of this, this was my fault," said Palko.

McKeown worked at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church throughout the 1980s, but he was also active at other churches, including St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City, where there is at least one other alleged victim.

"He said it scared the hell out of me. He was sodomized, and it has been so hard," said Annette Alix, who said her son was also victimized by McKeown.

McKeown was indicted for rape and aggravated sexual battery in 1999. 

He is serving 25 years in prison, but only for incidents in Nashville after he left the priesthood.

Officials with the Catholic Diocese in Nashville spoke with 6 News by phone.

"The first allegation against McKeown came forward in 1986. Someone reported that he had been abused quite a number of years earlier," said Catholic Diocese of Nashville Director of Communications Rick Musacchio.

Musacchio said McKeown was immediately brought to Nashville, then put on restrictive duties when he admitted there was truth to the allegations.

In 1989, McKeown was no longer a priest.

Palko heard the news, plus talk of other allegations.

Still, he said he was not ready to speak up, and neither was Alix's son who was treated for suicidal thoughts.

"Pedophiles cannot be cured. He has to pay for this," said Alix.

Both families want to see McKeown serve his full sentence and be punished for what they say he did to their families.

Palko told 6 News he has hired an attorney and is considering litigation.

Musacchio denied allegations that they covered up any abuse by former priest Edward McKeown.

His alleged actions resulted in three lawsuits against the diocese. One was settled in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.

Since 2002, it has been the Diocese of Nashville's policy to remove priests from the priesthood immediately if a single, credible allegation is made.

The Diocese of Nashville was responsible for East Tennessee churches until the Diocese of Knoxville was formed.

6 News was unable to reach church officials with Blessed Sacrament Church in Harriman or St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City.

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