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  Ex-Palm Beach Diocese Bishop Settles Two Lawsuits

By Sonja Isger
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
July 29, 2004

Former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell will pay $5,000 each to settle lawsuits with two men who say O'Connell had sexual relations with them them decades ago when they were teenagers studying at a seminary in Missouri, attorneys for all parties said Wednesday.

The men, Michael Wegs, 51, of Minneapolis, and Matthew Cosby, 36, of St. Louis, also received $20,000 and $27,000 respectively from the Jefferson City Diocese, where the abuse took place, said Patrick Noaker, the lawyer who represented both men.

"It was very healthy for these two men to get some money from Bishop O'Connell," Noaker said. "It was small, but it was something and there was very much a need for them to have their allegations acknowledged."

O'Connell came to the five-county Palm Beach Diocese in 1999 in the wake of a sex scandal that unseated the previous bishop. But on March 8, 2002, he resigned, admitting that he had improperly touched a young man in an effort to counsel him. He also said another might come forward. By July of this year, O'Connell stood accused of different forms of sexual abuse of at least nine men -- three of whom, including Wegs and Cosby, filed suit in Missouri. Another settled out of court.

The third suit was dismissed this week, when an appellate court determined that the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes had run out, said Noaker, who represented that plaintiff as well.

O'Connell was an instructor, dean of students and later rector at a Missouri seminary from 1964 to 1983.

Neither Wegs nor Cosby could be reached for comment. O'Connell declined to speak through his attorney, James Geoly.

Geoly said the costs of continuing to defend the case may have influenced O'Connell to settle, but "I also think Bishop O'Connell sincerely wants to make his peace. That may not be a lot of money for some people, but for him it is. He's trying to make amends. That I know for sure."

The men continue to be disappointed that the courts would not hear their claims because the time limits had been passed, Noaker said.

Last month, Wegs also decried the response of the church, which allowed O'Connell to retire to a Catholic monastery in a scenic part of South Carolina.

"He should be in jail," Wegs said then. "He violated the ultimate trust. He corrupted an entire institution. He corrupted the ideals and morals of young boys.

"But nothing will happen to him. He will not go to jail. He has lost his power and access to Palm Beach society, but he won't suffer more than that. He won't be defrocked. He's just waiting out the storm, and what better place to wait it out but at a Southern plantation?"

 
 

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