Diocese aids man accused of rape

Knoxville News Sentinel [Knoxville TN]

May 9, 2023

By Tyler Whetstone

Former seminarian’s tuition, expenses paid

Bishop Richard Stika authorized the Diocese of Knoxville to pay nearly $50,000 in private university tuition and living expenses for a former seminarian he knew had been accused of rape, Knox News has learned.

In a letter to Saint Louis University in Missouri viewed by Knox News, Stika confirmed the diocese would pay $48,258 for the 2021-22 school year. The school, one of the top Jesuit universities in the United States, offers courses in theology but is not a seminary. Stika earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Louis University.

The letter, dated April 12, 2021, is on Office of Bishop letterhead and

signed by Stika. It is addressed to the university’s international services office. Stika wrote that the student, who is Polish, “will not be in any way a burden to the United States of America or the State of Tennessee.”

The former seminarian remains listed as a student on the university’s website, studying in the College of Arts and Sciences. A university spokesperson did not respond to a list of questions about the student.

It is not unusual for the diocese to pay for the education of seminarians, though this instance stands out because the student is no longer a seminarian and the nature of the allegations against him. A diocesan spokesperson declined to answer questions about the former seminarian, citing an ongoing lawsuit against the diocese and Stika related to the allegation against the man.

The diocese already knew

The diocese was told that the seminarian had been accused of rape by March 2021 at the latest, when its internal sexual abuse review board – which reviews allegations of misconduct – agreed to look into the former church employee’s complaint, according to multiple emails between former board members obtained by Knox News.

In one email, dated March 10, 2021, a former review board member wrote a letter to share the allegation with the victim’s assistance coordinator for the diocese.

On March 19, 2021, review board chairman Carleton “Butch” Bryant emailed the entire board, including Stika, saying it was “imperative” they meet the following week to “consider whether an investigation should be opened and pursued.”

Bishop scuttled investigation

The review board met and decided an investigation should be opened, and hired a third-party investigator to look into the matter.

Stika, however, intervened weeks later to demand the firing of the investigator, George Prosser, a retired Tennessee Valley Authority investigator. Prosser told Knox News that diocesan attorney Ward Phillips called and told him to stop investigating.

A former review board member confirmed Prosser’s story for Knox News and said Stika fired Prosser because he was asking too many questions. Knox News is not naming the former review board member to protect the person from retaliation.

Chris Manning, an investigator hired to replace Prosser, told the news website The Pillar, which covers the Catholic church, that he interviewed only the former seminarian and not the former church employee who lodged the sexual assault complaint.

Seminarian lived with bishop

In comments to a group of priests in 2021, the bishop explained that the seminarian had been living with him and former Cardinal Justin Rigali to help take care of the elder Rigali and “drive us,” according to audio of the discussion obtained by Knox News, “If I had been living by myself, I would not have asked him to come live with me even though we have some priests live with seminarians in the summer,” Stika said. “I was not going to put myself in that position. So, I gave (him) a thorough evaluation.”

Bishop called alleged victim a ‘predator’

Nearly two weeks after Stika sent the letter to Saint Louis University, The Pillar began publishing reports about the seminarian and how the sexual assault allegations against him were handled. Those reports established the basis of a lawsuit filed by the former church employee against the diocese and Stika in February 2022.

Knox News identifies the former church employee as John Doe, the pseudonym he originally used in the lawsuit to protect his identity. He has since been forced to refile his lawsuit under his legal name after the diocese went to court to demand he be identified in legal proceedings.

In a recent court filing, Stika admitted that he told a room full of priests that the man who says he was raped by the former seminarian was actually the predator, not the other way around. He also admitted to telling a separate group of priests that John Doe groomed the seminarian for sexual abuse.