Harriman priest named in sexual abuse lawsuit

Roane County News

July 23, 2020

By Hugh Willett

A lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Knox County accuses a Harriman Catholic priest of sexually abusing a female parishioner.

Plaintiff Celeste Arnone alleges that she sustained injuries and damages as a result of a sexual relationship with Father Michael Sweeney, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Harriman.

The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville is also listed as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges that shortly after the married plaintiff became a Catholic in 2000, Father Sweeney began providing “spiritual direction” that included weekly visits that eventually developed into a sexual relationship.

“Father Sweeney exerted control over the Plaintiff Celeste Arnone to gain and maintain a sexual relationship with her and portrayed it as furthering the spiritual relationship with him and the Church,” the complaint alleges.

The relationship involved going to lunch, shopping and visiting Sweeney’s lake property. He also allegedly provide financial aid including getting her house out of foreclosure, buying her a gun, showing her how to use it, and providing money for a trip to Italy.

The complaint also alleges that the plaintiff’s relationship with her family suffered as a result of the relationship with Sweeney, resulting in a June 2004 divorce and annulment of her marriage.

“Much of this sexual exploitation of adult men and women comes under the guise of spiritual direction done in private,” says Susan Vance of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

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