Secrets, Sins and Silence
Secrets, Sins and Silence
[See also Will public debriding bring private healing of the wounds at St. Thomas Aquinas? by Bishop John R. Gaydos, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 22, 2004.]
In summer 1988, Paul and Linda Bange thought nothing of it when McNally offered to drive their 16-year-old son to Knoxville for O'Connell's installation as bishop and to share a hotel room with him. Other family members attended separately.
It would be in the hotel room in Knoxville where McNally would first sexually abuse David Bange, something he would do more than 100 times over the next eight years, Bange said in an interview. To this day, the diocese never has disclosed the abuse publicly, and church officials declined to comment for these stories. McNally and his lawyer also declined to comment.
At St. Thomas, McNally and Bange were almost inseparable, with the student constantly visiting the priest's office to play on the computer or staying up late in McNally's room.
Bange's role as the teacher's pet angered fellow students to the point that one sent an anonymous letter to the bishop about what he considered Bange's favored treatment.
McNally charmed his way into the Bange family, stopping by for frequent visits on weekends and in the summer, spending the holidays together and staying overnight. McNally would room in the basement and abuse the boy, sometimes for hours, while his parents and siblings slept upstairs, David Bange said.
The priest took the boy on vacations to California, Canada and elsewhere and to visit O'Connell in Knoxville.
When Bange graduated St. Thomas and began college at Conception Seminary, the abuse continued, according to Bange. McNally arranged for Bange to have a summer job painting St. Thomas.
"It was just me and McNally in this great big, huge, empty building," Bange recalled. The priest would abuse him almost every night, he said.
Bange said over the years he tried again and again to get McNally to stop.
"I don't want you to do this anymore," he recalled telling McNally.
"OK, I'm sorry. I promise I won't do it. It will never happen again," he remembered the priest responding.
A week or two would pass, and then the kissing, masturbation, oral sex or some combination would resume, Bange said.
Looking back, Bange -- now 32 -- thinks about a comment he said McNally made that very first night in Knoxville.
"Some people don't like it when I rub them like this," he recalled McNally whispering.
Now he wonders. How many others were there?
Confronting an abuser
In 1993, Matt Cosby told a counselor at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury that he had been abused by O'Connell -- the first time he had divulged that information to someone within the church.
The abuse had continued relentlessly almost since Cosby had first met O'Connell while a student at St. Thomas, Cosby said. Cosby was 15 when the abuse began and 23 when it ended in 1991, according to a deposition Cosby gave as part of a suit against O'Connell and others.
In addition to telling the counselor, Cosby said he also divulged the name of his abuser to at least two other priests on the faculty at Kenrick.
Cosby said that, to his knowledge, none of the Kenrick officials he told about the abuse ever reported O'Connell's actions to other church officials who could have sought the bishop's removal.
In Knoxville, O'Connell had become a presence in the hills and hollows of east Tennessee. The popular bishop often called on the governor and other lawmakers in support of causes such as the abolition of capital punishment and increased spending for the poor. He also continued his rise in the church. He served on various committees and boards such as Catholic Relief Services, which allowed him to travel the world.
With his counselor's encouragement, Cosby traveled to Knoxville to confront O'Connell during Martin Luther King Day weekend in January 1994.
He asked O'Connell why he'd done what he'd done and whether he'd done it to anyone else.
O'Connell, through tears, denied the abuse. He said he'd only wanted to show that two men could lie in bed together naked and touch each other without it being a sexual situation, according to Cosby's deposition.
O'Connell said he did it to show Cosby he wasn't gay, that this type of behavior was normal. He apologized and asked for Cosby's forgiveness.
Cosby thought the explanation outlandish. To him, O'Connell seemed most concerned about the abuse being made public, according to Cosby's deposition.
Still, Cosby forgave O'Connell and they agreed to remain friends. He left Knoxville with the belief that he had been the only victim. O'Connell told him that he would help in whatever way he could.
Later that spring, depressed, suicidal, now open about his homosexuality, struggling with celibacy and other church teachings, Cosby decided to leave the seminary. He soon changed his mind and petitioned to be readmitted.
That summer, the seminary sent a letter that said it would be best if he not return.
"This past academic year was a time of significant self-discovery for you and I believe that it would be better for Kenrick and for you, pardon my saying what might be good for you, if you took the time to live your discoveries for a while away from the seminary," wrote William Hartenbach, the dean of formation.
Cosby felt abandoned. Rather than offer compassion and continued counseling, they'd simply told him to leave.
In late July, remembering O'Connell's previous offer to help, Cosby traveled with a friend to Knoxville, where he asked O'Connell for money to buy a car.
That August, O'Connell sent him $7,200 that Cosby used to buy a Honda Accord. O'Connell continued to send Cosby money, including a $3,500 check in December 1996 when Cosby told O'Connell he was having financial trouble, according to Cosby's deposition.
Cosby knew what O'Connell had done to him was wrong. But he says he never looked at the payments as blackmail. He says he considered O'Connell his friend.
Telling a bishop
In 1994, another former student at St. Thomas Aquinas was living in Kansas City when a sex scandal involving a priest there prompted him to divulge his abuse by O'Connell. For these articles, the former student asked to be identified by his initials, T.L., to help protect his family and his privacy.
The abuse had begun in fall 1968 during T.L.'s sophomore year. The following year, T.L. was kicked out of St. Thomas after he confided his sexual feelings about two younger students to O'Connell.
Despite that history, T.L. maintained his relationship with O'Connell. The bishop frequently sought him out for sex until the former student was well into his 30s, according to T.L.'s deposition in a suit he filed against O'Connell and the diocese. T.L. is identified in that suit only as "John Doe."
T.L. in 1994 approached Bishop Raymond J. Boland, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, after a Mass, according to the suit.
T.L. said he later met with Boland in his office and told Boland that he had been abused by O'Connell, that they continued to have a sexual relationship and that he wanted O'Connell to get help. T.L. also said he told Boland about persistent rumors that other priests continued to abuse seminarians at St. Thomas.
Boland told him that the dioceses "like to keep these things quiet" and encouraged him to handle his problem directly and discreetly with O'Connell, according to the suit.
In an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2002, Boland said he recalled being approached after a Mass one day by a layman who asked about O'Connell's whereabouts. But the bishop denied he had any discussion about O'Connell and sexual abuse allegations with that person.
Boland declined to comment for these stories. "I'm not making any more statements on this," he said. "I think this has been handled, hasn't it? I've been . . . sued for the past two or three years on this sort of thing and I'm not going to reopen it."
T.L. said he reached O'Connell at his residence in Knoxville a day or so after the meeting in Boland's office. O'Connell told T.L. that he was seeking help and that such behavior was no longer occurring.
Later that year, O'Connell traveled to Kansas City, and T.L. made arrangements for the bishop, whom he still considered a close friend, to bless his new apartment.
The sexual relationship over, O'Connell now acted cold, distant and guarded, T.L. said. Toward the end of the visit, T.L. said, O'Connell asked him, "Are we OK? Is everything OK between us?"
T.L. told him it was and that he planned to do nothing further.
They stayed in contact for the next several years by phone and mail. O'Connell occasionally would send T.L. money.
In 1998, O'Connell began to more routinely send checks, typically about $400 a month, according to T.L's suit. The payments would continue for about four years and total about $21,000, he said.
Making an apology
In 1995, depressed, exhausted, racked by panic attacks and on the brink of suicide, Chris Dixon went to an old friend then serving as the Jefferson City Diocese's vicar general. He divulged that he'd been abused by three priests during his youth and that he might leave the priesthood.
Ordained in 1990, Dixon had spent three years as an associate pastor and part-time teacher at a Jefferson City parish and school before Bishop Michael McAuliffe assigned him to the faculty at St. Thomas, his alma mater. He went willingly, with the belief that things had to have changed since his time as a student.
Dixon's 21/2 years on the faculty there were difficult. By now, O'Connell had become bishop of Knoxville. But another of Dixon's alleged abusers, Manus Daly, had replaced O'Connell as rector of St. Thomas.
Dixon said Daly treated him as though he were still a student rather than an equal. An angry Dixon challenged Daly whenever he could.
At a faculty meeting, Dixon said he complained to Daly about Father McNally having students in his room long into the night.
He knew the abuse he had suffered under similar circumstances and he asked Daly to put a stop to it. Dixon said Daly did nothing.
Soon, Dixon began to suffer panic attacks. He struggled to get out of bed. He fell into a deep depression.
Dixon said his friend who served as vicar general told him to leave the seminary as soon as possible.
Just days after Dixon left St. Thomas, O'Connell wrote him a letter.
"If I could relive those days again, I would surely have recommended better help for you than what I was able to give," O'Connell wrote. "To the extent, Chris, that through my own misguided help or failure to respond in a way that would be more helpful for you, I am profoundly sorry and I abjectly apologize."
That wasn't good enough for Dixon.
He wanted O'Connell to acknowledge the sexual abuse, get help and resign as bishop.
In April 1996, Dixon wrote a letter to O'Connell.
"It is vitally important for my continued healing, as well as necessary for the sake of justice, that I know you are receiving help and doing what is appropriate to come to terms with your own blindness in terms of what you did and to make restitution," Dixon wrote. "I do not desire to take the matter any further as long as I know that you are dealing with this forthrightly and judiciously. If that is not the case with you, and for that matter, Manus, I will consider taking legal action that will force you to come to terms with what happened."
He told O'Connell to write him and let him know he was getting help.
"I know you and Bishop McAuliffe are good friends and that he has confronted you about this, yet he has no jurisdiction over you and cannot hold you accountable very well, I suspect," Dixon wrote in his letter.
O'Connell wrote back and told Dixon that he was in therapy "and will continue to do so as I strive for greater self-knowledge and insight."
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