The Pillar [Washington DC]
June 27, 2023
Shortly after his resignation was announced Tuesday morning, Bishop Rick Stika told a Knoxville, Tennessee reporter that he had been sexually assaulted by a priest when he was a teenager.
In addition to his comments June 27, the bishop named his alleged abuser in a Facebook exchange last week, in which he also told another alleged survivor of clerical sexual assault “you need to move on.”
“I’ve never covered up sexual abuse. I myself was a victim of sexual abuse when I was a freshman in high school, by a priest, and look at me,” Stika told Jared Austin of WVLT-TV.
“I did the therapy, and I’m quite honest and open with it, so I see both sides of it. And no matter what anyone says, I would never tolerate sexual abuse of a minor or a vulnerable adult,” the bishop added.
Stika had not until recently made public any allegation that he had been sexually abused by a priest.
But in a June 24 Facebook comment, Stika offered additional details of his allegation:
“I was sexually molested by John Murphy, a former priest of the Augustinian’s [sic] while I was a freshman at a seminary high school. 1971. I do not judge others by limited understanding if [sic] situations. I do not blame the Church, I blame John Murphy.”
The Diocese of Knoxville did not respond to a phone call from The Pillar, and Stika could not be reached for comment.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a former member of the Augustinian member named John Murphy was accused in 1981 and again in 1993 of sexual abuse.
After the 1981 allegation, the priest was permitted to remain in parish ministry after “independent professional advice,” the order said in 2003.
Accusations against Murphy include two allegations that the priest abused 10-year-old boys, one of whom was allegedly an altar boy, and the other interested in priesthood.
The priest was laicized in 1993, and is now living outside of Chicago. He told the Chicago Sun-Times last year that the allegations against him were “not true in my mind.”
Stika attended St. Augustine Minor Seminary High School, which closed in 1977. It is not clear whether Murphy had been assigned to the school during the years Stika was in attendance there. The seminary was run by the Augustinian order.
The Pillar contacted the Augustians’ Midwest Province to ask if Stika had made any previous allegation against Murphy to the order, but did not receive an answer by time of press.
Stika made the allegations in a June 24 Facebook exchange with Chris O’Leary, a man who says he was sexually abused in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where Stika served as a priest from 1985 until 2009.
In the exchange, the bishop denounced a Tennessee leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Susan Vance, as “a fraud” who “likes the spotlight.”
The bishop also told O’Leary that: “you need to move on. Apparently this [abuse] has affected your family and your children.”
“Here’s the problem,” O’Leary said in the exchange of public messages, “this has affected my family and my children because I don’t know HOW to move on. How do you do that? I honestly don’t know. How do you move on from being RAPED by a Priest?”
“Het a good therapists [sic],” Stika responded, apparently suggesting O’Leary needed to find a good therapist.
Stika’s resignation as Bishop of Knoxville was accepted by the Holy See on Tuesday, nearly two years after reports first emerged of his mishandling of sexual assault allegations in the Tennesee diocese.
In the intervening period, reports have flagged other financial and personnel issues in the diocese under Stika’s leadership, leading several of the bishop’s own clergy to write to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, asking for “merciful relief” from their bishop.
In November 2022, the Vatican dispatched two Virginia bishops to conduct an official apostolic visitation in the diocese, focusing on Stika’s leadership, though their findings were never made public.
After announcing his resignation on June 27, Stika told his priests that he expected to “remain in active ministry, but at a slower pace,” and that he would likely move back to St. Louis, Missouri, his hometown, along with Cardinal Justin Rigali, with whom he has lived for several years.