Catholics Hear Bishop's Letter Addressing Sexual Abuse by Priest

By Alison Morrow
April 18, 2010

[with video]

Catholics who attended mass in the Knoxville Diocese this weekend heard about an East Tennessee priest who has admitted to sexually abusing a young parishioner 30 years ago.

Father Bill Casey is now suspended from ministry.

According to the Diocese, the retired priest admitted there is truth to allegations that he repeatedly molested an altar boy while serving at St. Dominic in Kingsport.

Wednesday, Warren Tucker told the diocese that Father Casey had sexually abused him in "every way imaginable" between 1975 and 1980.

In an effort to address the issue before the Catholic body, Bishop Richard Stika wrote a letter that was read in masses this weekend.

"My dear friends in Christ, as the Bishop of Knoxville, I want to begin by apologizing to you all," read Father David Boettner of Sacred Heart Cathedral in west Knoxville.

The letter began with the accusations.

"Mr. Tucker accused Father Bill Casey, a retired priest in the Diocese of Knoxville, of sexually abusing him," Father Boettner read.

It walked parishioners through the steps the diocese took immediately following the allegations, including the removal of Father Casey from ministry.

"You have a right to expect your children to be safe at church and at school," Father Boettner read. "So, when we hear of individuals abusing and molesting children, we are horrified, repulsed and heartbroken."

The words point to what appears to be the bishop's public relations strategy, beginning with a press conference on April 15, the day after Mr. Tucker's meeting.

"The way that healing begins is by speaking the truth," Father Boettner said. "I'm very proud of our Bishop and I'm very grateful for his direct response, for his openness and transparency."

"I'm so grateful that we have such a strong and eloquent bishop. He is meeting this crisis head-on," said Sacred Heart member Maggie MacDonald.

"I think they're doing a wonderful job of making it known what is happening and I think it's very brave of Bishop Stika," said member Mariannina Morris.

The letter also addressed words that may have yet to come, encouraging other potential victims to step forward "so that healing can begin."

According to Bishop Stika, Father Casey has said there could be more victims.

"We have to pray, please God, have mercy," said Sacred Heart member Therese Campbell.

"It's not questioning my faith but it's breaking my heart," Morris said.

"The church is our family. We're all in this together. I love our church and I'm sorry we've been hurt like this," MacDonald said.

The Diocese of Knoxville has posted the letter on their website so parishioners who were unable to attend church can still read it.

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