Catholic Diocese Ignores Victims’ Request. Refuses to Remove Images of Former Pedophile Bishop
Knoxville, TN –Dec. 28, 2003: Victims of Anthony J. O’Connell are asking that his pictures be removed from buildings owned by the Diocese of Knoxville, but it’s not going to happen according to local Catholic officials. They state reasons of history, of forgiveness, and of good works done by O’Connell while he was bishop of Knoxville.
Victims are not impressed. They had hoped for more—more sensitivity and more understanding from the Catholic diocese.
O’Connell was the founding bishop of Knoxville from 1988 to 1998. He admitted molesting “one, possibly two” adolescent boys at a seminary in Hannibal, Missouri. That admission came in March 2002, and he resigned as bishop of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Still today, there is a portrait of O’Connell in the hallway of Knoxville Catholic High School and two pictures of him in the office of KCHS principal, Dr. Aurelia Montgomery. The current bishop of Knoxville, Joseph E. Kurtz, has a bust of O’Connell in the main hallway, just a dozen or so feet from his office. Other places including youth minister’s offices have pictures of O’Connell as well.
“Bishop Kurtz and the diocese say they want victims of priest sexual abuse to come forward and get help, but their actions say otherwise,” states Susan Vance, co director of the Tennessee Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. SNAP is a national organization of clergy abuse survivors and their advocates.
“Symbols speak volumes,” says Michael Wegs, a victim of O’Connell who has filed one of the approximately eight lawsuits now pending against O’Connell. “The honor of prominently displaying portraiture of a man who turned out to be a fraud only harms the faithful.”
The diocese stands by its reasoning. They say that the Church has many less-than-perfect popes and other leaders whose images remain in Churches in Rome and elsewhere.
“There is a huge difference here. These historical offenders and their victims are dead. O’Connell is alive. His victims’ pain is real and alive. Some victims may be in the Knoxville area,” says Vance. “The diocesan position of displaying O’Connell’s image shows insensitivity to victims and their families.”
Forgiveness of O’Connell is a strong message in the Knoxville diocese. Officials often speak of forgiving O’Connell, using the Biblical reference, “Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone.”
“Forgiveness and truth must coexist,” states Mary Monroe-Ellis, SNAP of Tennessee co-director. “Catholics here have not yet heard the truth about O’Connell, and we wonder why the diocese is so hesitant to let the victims tell their side.
Diocesan officials point to O’Connell’s time in East Tennessee as the “glorious years for Catholicism in East Tennessee.” There were churches and a school built, many priests ordained, and record numbers of conversions.
“Child abuse is a crime. Countless good deeds do not make up for the ruining of even one life,” states Vance. Tim Link, another victim of O’Connell who has filed suit states it very clearly. “The faithful in East Tennessee need to take off the blinders! Anthony J. O'Connell destroyed my faith, my trust and my ability to truly love.
So much for the “glorious years.”
From: The Tennessee Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those abused by Priests (SNAP)
www.rememberthesurvivors.com [email protected]
Fax Number: 865-927-9736
Phone Number: 865-927-2923 or 865-748-3518 Contact person: Susan Vance