Ex-Student to Sue Bishop Who Quit

The Associated Press
March 17, 2002

WEST PALM BEACH -- A former Missouri seminary student will allege in a lawsuit that he was molested by a former Florida bishop who resigned after admitting he inappropriately touched another student during the 1970s.

Jeffrey Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn. attorney, said Friday he represents a 47-year-old man who came forward after reading that former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell had said there might be a second victim.

During a March 8 news conference to announce his resignation, the former bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach said "there could be one other person of a somewhat similar situation in a somewhat similar time frame."

Anderson declined to identify the man but said the lawsuit would be filed Monday in Hannibal, Mo., against St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary -- where O'Connell served as rector -- and the Jefferson City Diocese.

"He thought he was alone. He wants the truth to be told," Anderson said. "This has been a source of a great deal of pain and self blame and guilt for this man for many years."

Mark Saucier, a spokesman for the Jefferson City diocese, did not immediately return a phone call Saturday. Sam Barbaro, a spokesman for the Palm Beach diocese, said O'Connell remained in seclusion and could not be reached for comment.

O'Connell resigned after Christopher Dixon, a 40-year-old former seminary student, said the bishop touched him inappropriately in bed during counseling sessions in the late 1970s.

In 1996, the Jefferson City diocese paid $125,000 to Dixon, who said he was abused by three priests, including O'Connell, while he was a student.

Anderson said the lawsuit will allege that O'Connell "sexualized" a counseling relationship with the teen-ager at St. Thomas seminary about 20 years ago. O'Connell was the man's spiritual adviser at the time, he said.

A third alleged seminary school victim, a 38-year-old father of three, has never spoken out because he "would rather die than tell his teen-age children" about the abuse, the Rev. Joseph Starmann told The Palm Beach Post in a story published Saturday.

Starmann, a retired priest in Winfield, Mo., said he has kept in contact with the man since his seminary school days. He would not disclose his name. Attempts to reach Starmann on Saturday were unsuccessful.

Starmann said the man told him that O'Connell had "gotten very intimate" with him. He didn't offer details and the priest said he didn't ask for them.

Starmann said the man did not report the allegation to the church or to police, something he said he regrets.

"Who would have believed either of us at the time?" Starmann said. "I'm unhappy about many of my failures in this respect."

The boy graduated from high school, went into military service, got married, had children, learned a technical trade and seemed to be on a good track, Starmann said. He said his life recently fell apart.

In a recent e-mail to fellow priests, family and friends, Starmann said he wanted to urge the man to go public with his story, but his life was in too much turmoil.

"He doesn't want any more stress or embarrassment in his life," Starmann said. "Some kids never get over the trauma and pay the price for this kind of outrageous abuse their entire lives."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.