Suit Says Bishop in KC Knew of Abuse
Catholic Clergy Accused of Cover-Up
By Matt Stearns and Judy L. Thomas
Kansas City Star [Kansas & Missouri]
April 19, 2002
St. Louis - Bishop Raymond J. Boland of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph knew about sexual abuse of a minor by a priest and conspired to keep it secret, a racketeering lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.
The civil lawsuit filed against Boland, the Vatican, and several bishops and Roman Catholic dioceses, alleges sexual abuse by former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.
The plaintiff, identified only as a single, 49-year-old computer programmer living in Massachusetts, said he was abused by O'Connell at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., beginning in 1968. The plaintiff then was a 15-year-old student at the seminary, and O'Connell was his spiritual adviser.
The abuse continued for years, the plaintiff alleges.
The man said he told Boland about the alleged abuse in 1994. According to the lawsuit, the man contends that Boland told him "they like to keep these things quiet." Shortly thereafter, the man said he began receiving monthly payments from O'Connell.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Other defendants in the lawsuit, filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, are the Dioceses of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Jefferson City, Knoxville, Tenn., and Palm Beach; Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City; Michael McAuliffe, the former bishop of Jefferson City; and O'Connell.
Boland could not be reached for comment Thursday.
"We have not seen the lawsuit yet," said Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. "There's really nothing that we could say about this until something arrives here in an official capacity. It would be very premature, or even speculative, for us to have anything to say."
Summers added, "We're very curious, because we have no jurisdiction in the Jefferson City diocese," where the abuse allegedly began.
Boland was installed as bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph in September 1993 and within three months implemented a "zero tolerance" policy on clergy sexual abuse.
"We do, and will continue to, aggressively pursue any complaints or accusations that come to us from victims," Boland said in December 1993 in response to criticism earlier that year that diocesan officials would not divulge the names of possible victims of sexual abuse by a priest in the diocese.
The next month, three allegations of sexual abuse by priests within the diocese became public. Among them was an earlier agreement to pay a young man alleged to have been sexually abused by the Rev. John R. Tulipana.
That's when the plaintiff - who had sought counseling from Tulipana - went to Boland, according to the suit filed Thursday.
"Plaintiff learned that a priest with whom he had been counseling had been accused of committing sexual abuse with minors," according to the lawsuit. "Shortly after learning this information, plaintiff went to Bishop Boland and disclosed the sexual abuse and exploitation he had experienced by defendant O'Connell."
Jeffrey R. Anderson, the plaintiff's lawyer, alleged Thursday at a news conference in St. Louis that Boland had told his client, "Well, this is the kind of thing that we like to keep and need to keep a secret and between us."
Anderson said that Boland then offered to call O'Connell for the plaintiff and that both the plaintiff and Boland separately called O'Connell.
"We do know that Bishop Boland knew there was child sexual abuse," Anderson said at the news conference. "We know that he actively became a part of the conspiracy in 1994, if he didn't know it before then."
Shortly after the phone calls, according to the lawsuit, O'Connell began making monthly payments of $200 to the plaintiff.
O'Connell's payments to the plaintiff, identified in the lawsuit only as John T. Doe, totaled more than $21,000 and continued until three weeks ago, Anderson said.
The lawsuit also calls every bishop in charge of a Catholic diocese in the United States an unnamed co-conspirator, including archbishops and cardinals.
According to the lawsuit, American bishops conspired to "intentionally, recklessly and/or negligently conceal criminal conduct of its agents" to further their "scheme to protect molesting priests and other clergy from criminal prosecution, to maintain or increase charitable contributions and tuition payments and/or avoid public scandal in the Roman Catholic Church."
The lawsuit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization statutes, which are traditionally used to prosecute organized crime, Anderson said.
"This constitutes a pattern of racketeering activity," Anderson said at the news conference. "It is illegal. It is corrupt. ...
Certainly Congress never intended that (the RICO Act) be applied to the bishops. But if they're going to act like organized crime and violate the laws that they have, that's why we're here."
Asked what he hoped to accomplish with the lawsuit, Anderson replied: "First, prevention. To stop the abuse. Second, to begin the healing. And third, to get some justice. When it's all said and done, this is going to be a safer church."
Officials at the other dioceses named in the lawsuit had little to say about the allegations.
"As Bishop Gaydos has indicated previously, we abhor any acts of abuse against anyone by a representative of the church," said Mark Saucier, spokesman for the Diocese of Jefferson City.
"We're concerned about all victims, and we regret the way in which some of these issues have been handled in the past," Saucier said. "We're determined to do everything possible to prevent any type of abusive behavior."
The Rev. Vann Johnston, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, said he was surprised to hear that the diocese was included as a defendant.
"To my knowledge, no one here knew anything about Bishop O'Connell's past activities on this subject until the first report came out recently," Johnston said. "It was totally shocking to everyone here in the diocese."
Sam Barbaro, spokesman for the Palm Beach diocese, said it was the diocese's policy not to comment on pending litigation.
"There's really nothing for us to offer at this time," Barbaro said.
Thursday's lawsuit is the third to be filed against O'Connell alleging that he molested seminarians at St. Thomas Aquinas in Hannibal. O'Connell worked there from 1964 until he was promoted to bishop of Knoxville in 1988. He became bishop of Palm Beach in 1998, replacing Bishop Joseph Keith Symons, who stepped down after admitting he had molested five boys.
O'Connell resigned March 8 after admitting that he molested at least one student at the Hannibal seminary. He has been in seclusion ever since.
That former student, Christopher Dixon, was at Thursday's news conference and read a statement from the plaintiff. The statement said O'Connell began abusing the plaintiff during the seminarian's sophomore year.
"As part of the so-called spiritual direction and under the guise of psychological testing, he would put his hands on my (genitalia)," the statement said. "This was very uncomfortable for me, but I trusted him; he was a priest, and I felt he knew what God would have him do."
The abuse led to "many years of depression and loneliness," according to the statement. "Father O'Connell took away from me my dream of being a priest while he was climbing the ladder to the office of bishop."
According to the lawsuit, the abuse continued intermittently until 1991.
The plaintiff chose to remain anonymous "to respect his privacy and to encourage others to come forward for healing and vindication," Anderson said.
Dixon said he understood why some of the alleged victims didn't want their names made public.
"Of course, they will be known to the lawyers of the defense and to the accused," Dixon said. "But they are not at a stage where they have a level of comfort to be exposed to the media."
Some victims, he said, still feel shame and guilt over the abuse or don't want their families to go through the ordeal of learning what happened.
"But I don't think their unwillingness to come forward by name or by face should prevent them from being able to seek justice."
- The Star's Tim Hoover contributed to this report.
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