Accused Priest Was Phoenix Educator

By Joseph A. Reaves and Kelly Ettenborough
Arizona Republic
February 15, 2003

A Milwaukee priest who served as assistant principal at St. Mary's High School in Phoenix two years ago is scheduled to stand trial on felony charges of sexually assaulting a child in Wisconsin.

The allegations against the Rev. Marvin T. Knighton, 52, stem from a series of incidents between April 22, 1988, and Aug. 30, 1989, more than a decade before he came to Phoenix.

Knighton's attorney said the priest told the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about the allegations in 1993, but no action was taken because no formal complaint had been filed.

"Not every allegation made by someone is truthful and perhaps we will have to just wait and see what the proof shows," said Knighton's attorney, Gerald P. Boyle of Milwaukee.

Nothing in Knighton's record indicated cause for concern before he came to St. Mary's for the 2000-01 academic year, said Kim Sue Lia Perkes, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.

"We never had any allegations against him and we had no knowledge of any previous allegations against him from Milwaukee until after he left this diocese," Perkes said.

Knighton was assistant principal of a high school in Milwaukee when he requested personal leave to make the move to Phoenix. An aide to then-Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote the Phoenix Diocese on June 5, 2000, recommending Knighton.

"He is a priest in good standing with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee," wrote the Rev. Joseph F. Hornacek, vicar for clergy. "There is nothing in his background that would require us to limit any ministry with children."

Knighton, who received permission from Pope John Paul II to adopt three boys, was assigned to the Milwaukee Archdiocese's Office for Schools and Child/Youth Ministry when he returned from Phoenix.

He held that position until March, when a Milwaukee man accused Knighton of sexually assaulting him "20 to 25 times" during the '80s. The accuser, now 29, was a student at St. Pius XI High School from fall 1987 through spring 1991, when Knighton was on faculty.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee removed Knighton from public ministry on April 2 when a second man accused the priest of sexually assaulting him in the 1970s.

The statute of limitations had expired in the 1970s case. But prosecutors said changes in Wisconsin law allowed them to bring indictments in the Pius case, which involved allegations of incidents that occurred before the victim was 16.

Copies of the criminal complaint show Knighton is accused of repeatedly assaulting the boy in the basement of the priest's suburban Milwaukee home and in a swimming pool at a church recreation center.

Shortly before Knighton was indicted last June, the Milwaukee Archdiocese sent a letter to Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien to give him "advance notice ... because there could be media coverage of this situation."


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