Bishops' Abuse Officers to Look into Knoxville

By Dennis Coday
National Catholic Reporter
February 13, 2004

The U.S. bishops’ office for child protection told NCR that it knows that images of Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, who admitted to sexually abusing minors, are on display in church facilities in the Knoxville, Tenn., diocese and will be contacting the diocese soon about them.

“It’s my intention to call the diocese,” Shelia Horan, deputy director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference, told NCR Feb. 2. “I want to find out the details. I’m curious about the details,” she said.

Horan was contacted late last month about the photographs and bust of O’Connell on display in Knoxville (NCR, Feb. 6). She said that part of the role the youth and child protection office plays is as an ombudsman between complainants and church leadership.

“I have one side of the story and I will look at the other side,” Horan said. She declined to say whether or not she would advise the Knoxville diocese about displaying images. O’Connell was the founding bishop of the diocese in 1988. Two of his photos hang in Knoxville Catholic High School and a bronze bust is displayed in a hallway in the Knoxville chancery. He resigned as bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., in 2002 after admitting to sexual abuse of minors.

Photos of the bishop have also been reported to be hanging in St. John Neumann Church in Knoxville, and in the youth minister’s office in St. Mary Church, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Members of the Tennessee chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- SNAP -- have requested that the images be removed. Diocesan officials told NCR that the images are part of historical displays and there were no plans to remove them.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP’s national organization, said, “The problem with hanging these images up is that it creates a chilling environment.

“One the one hand, you have bishops saying if you have been a victim we want you to come forward. On the other hand, you have the perpetrator [of sexual abuse] being honored,” Clohessy said.

“We realize that the only way perpetrators are stopped is when victims come forward. So we have to do whatever we can to encourage people to come forward,” he said. The converse of that is to stop doing whatever discourages people from coming forward, he said.

Clohessy also said that the problem is not common, but “it is not atypical.”

Last year in Grand Mound, Iowa, parishioners at Sts. Philip and James Parish learned that their former longtime pastor, Fr. James Janssen, was being sued for sexually abusing eight boys during his 42 years as a priest in the Davenport diocese. They tried to remove his name from the stained glass window where parishioners’ and priests’ names are engraved to commemorate service or special anniversaries.

After cleaning solvent, varnish remover and nail polish remover would not strip Janssen’s name, they took the whole window out and had that pane of glass replaced.

Elder High School, a Catholic school in Cincinnati, used to display portraits of all the school’s former principals. When allegations surfaced last summer that one former principal, Fr. Lawrence Strittmatter, had sexually abused teenage boys, the school was asked to remove Strittmatter’s portrait, but it resisted breaking up the historical display.

By mid-August, 10 accusers had filed suits against the priest and the display came down. “Having the picture up is, I think, sending the wrong message,” Elder’s current principal, Tom Otten, told The Cincinnati Post. The only portrait in the foyer now is of the school’s namesake, former Archbishop William Henry Elder.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer.


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