Priest Permanently Suspended
By Dan McWilliams
East Tennessee Catholic News
April 20, 2010
|SOMBER NEWS Bishop Stika addresses media at a press conference April 15 at the Chancery, during which he announced that Father Bill Casey “has now been removed from ministry and . . . will never again function as a priest of the church.”|
Father Bill Casey admits there is credibility to a sex-abuse charge and is removed from ministry.
Father Bill Casey of Greeneville has been permanently removed from ministry after admitting there is credibility to an Indiana man's accusation of sexual abuse against him.
Bishop Richard F. Stika announced at a press conference April 15 at the Chancery that the 76-year-old retired priest, who has since been arrested, has been permanently suspended from ministry.
Warren A. Tucker, 44, of Jeffersonville, Ind., said that Father Casey "sexually abused me in every way imaginable" from the time he was 10 1/2 to about age 15. At the time Father Casey was pastor of St. Dominic Parish in Kingsport, Tenn., and Mr. Tucker was a student at St. Dominic School.
"I want to assure you that Father Casey has now been removed from ministry, and he will never again function as a priest of the church," said Bishop Stika, later adding that "as bishop of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, I want to apologize to Mr. Tucker, to his family, and to anyone else who has been harmed by Father Casey."
Mr. Tucker contacted the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which urged him to come forward with his allegation. SNAP of Tennessee's East Tennessee coordinator, Susan Vance, was with Mr. Tucker when he went public with his story April 14 by reading a statement to local media in the parking lot of the Chancery office in Knoxville.
He gave diocesan chancellor Deacon Sean Smith and a member of the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Review Board a detailed account the same day. At that point, as per diocesan policy, Father Casey was suspended from ministry, pending an investigation. That evening Bishop Stika met in person with the priest, who "admitted that there is credibility to Mr. Tucker's statement," said the bishop. Father Casey was then permanently removed from ministry. [Editor's note: Because William Casey can no longer represent himself as a priest, we will hereafter refer to him as Mr. Casey on second reference, except in direct quotes.]
"Father Casey is ashamed of his actions and truly saddened by the harm he has caused Mr. Tucker, his family, the church, and all the faithful of the church," said the bishop, who along with Deacon Smith apologized in person to Mr. Tucker on April 15 at the Chancery.
The alleged abuse took place in Kingsport, in Greene County, and on trips he took with Mr. Casey to McDowell County, N.C., said Mr. Tucker. He filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Casey in September in Marion, N.C., because North Carolina—unlike Tennessee—does not have a statue of limitations on charges of childhood sexual abuse.
On April 19 Mr. Casey was arrested by the Greene County Sheriff's Office, which "received information that he was wanted in McDowell County, N.C., on a first-degree sexual-offense charge," reported The Greeneville Sun. Prosecutors later changed the charge to a felony crime against nature, the law that was on the books in 1977, when the abuse was alleged to have occurred in Marion, because the first-degree sexual-offense charge did not become official until Jan. 1, 1980, reported The McDowell News.
Bishop Stika reported the charges to Nashville Bishop David R. Choby because the alleged abuse occurred when East Tennessee was part of the Diocese of Nashville.
Mr. Casey served his entire nearly 41-year priesthood in East Tennessee, which was part of the Diocese of Nashville until the Knoxville Diocese was created in 1988. A native of Clearwater, Fla., he is a convert from the Baptist faith. He was ordained a priest by Bishop Joseph A. Durick on May 2, 1969.
He served as associate pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga for the first three years of his priesthood. He became pastor of Notre Dame and of St. Henry in Rogersville in June 1972 and served both parishes for four years. From 1976 to 1987 he was pastor of St. Dominic and from 1987 to 1997 he served as pastor of St. John Neumann in Farragut.
Mr. Casey returned to Greeneville in 1997 as pastor of Notre Dame. He also became pastor of Good Shepherd in Newport. He retired in 1999 to his home in Greeneville and has assisted at Notre Dame Church and elsewhere as needed.
Notre Dame parishioners were stunned by the news concerning the priest who had served in their parish for so long, and they held a prayer service the evening of the press conference.
Bishop Stika said that "whenever I hear of a case of abuse, it's like someone punches me in the stomach again and again, because faithful men in the priesthood are there to serve God's people, to build community, to show people that they can be loved by others."
The bishop had only recently made public statements about clergy sex-abuse cases from the United States and Europe. On April 9 he released a pastoral letter on sexual abuse that may be read online at bit.ly/aumdpk.
"Last week when I spoke to the media about the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I was not aware of any credible allegation against any priest of the Diocese of Knoxville," he said at the press conference. "Knowing how difficult it is for a victim of sexual abuse to come forward, I want to personally thank Mr. Warren Tucker for his courage in bringing this allegation to our attention. I know that SNAP has been working with Mr. Tucker, and I appreciate their assistance."
Bishop Stika said that the diocese "had no knowledge of Mr. Tucker's experiences" until Mr. Tucker met
with Deacon Smith. When he became the diocesan shepherd last year, Bishop Stika said he "read every priest's file to make sure that there's nothing lurking in someone's past. Last night, I once again went through [Mr. Casey's] file just to make sure I didn't miss anything. I can assure folks there is nothing in his file. We have not had any complaints over his years as a priest."
The bishop wrote a letter that was read at all weekend Masses on April 17 and 18 "to inform all of the parishioners of these allegations" and to "invite any others who may have been harmed to please come forward." Bishop Stika said that Mr. Casey "indicated that there potentially could be other victims early in his priesthood."
"If anyone else has been harmed, the church wants to reach out to them and also [wants them] to report this to the legal authorities," said Bishop Stika.
No other potential victims have contacted the diocese, the bishop said.
Mr. Casey said that "some of this happened in the early days of his priesthood, that at some point he realized how wrong it was and decided to stop, and that for the last number of years, a significant amount of years, he has not abused any children," the bishop said.
Bishop Stika said he pledged to "help Mr. Tucker and his family in his healing process in any way that we can."
The bishop said that his first words to Mr. Tucker in the meeting following the press conference would be "I'm sorry."
"I know they're just words, but I don't think there's more of an abomination in the world than for an adult to sexually abuse a child, and I will apologize to him."
Bishop Stika said that sex abuse by priests cannot be blamed on the church's celibacy requirement. "This has nothing to do with celibacy . . . it has to do with people out there who are sick and for whatever reason were able to become ordained ministers, priests, or whatever. It has nothing to do with the formation; it has to do with the person."
The bishop said the sexual abuse of children is a "plague that's a part of the society in which we live."
"If there's someone out there who would harm a child, it's an abomination against God," he said. "For whatever reason they might give for what they've done, it's an abomination against God and it's not to be tolerated."
Bishop Stika urged any victim of abuse by a priest or any church worker or volunteer to "go immediately to law enforcement, and then come to the church and inform us."
Deacon Smith said the diocese has notified the district attorney's offices in Greene County, where Mr. Casey lives now; Sullivan County, where he served at the time of the alleged abuse; and even Knox County, because the diocese is headquartered there.
Bishop Stika said that he "feels bad for Father Casey, but I feel horrible for Mr. Tucker, and I'll work with both of them. We're not going to abandon Father Casey. We're going to try to help him cope with what he's done and learn from his experience, but also make sure he lives a good life, an abiding life, and that he's monitored and accountable."
The bishop said the diocese will always remain transparent in its response to abuse allegations "and not hide like some people accuse" the Church of doing. Mr. Tucker, in meetings with the bishop and Deacon Smith and in remarks to local media, said that because of its response to him "the Diocese of Knoxville can serve as a model" to the rest of the country.
Father Ragan Schriver and Father David Boettner are coordinating efforts to hold deanery-wide meetings in which the faithful will be able to discuss their thoughts and feelings with a trained counselor. The meetings will be held in the next several weeks. Check the diocesan website, dioknox.org, for further information as the sessions are scheduled.