|Bishop's Letter on Sexual Abuse Read at Churches
By Rich Jones
April 19, 2010
A letter was read to worshippers at all three Masses at Notre Dame Catholic Church on Sunday from the Bishop of Knoxville, Richard F. Stika, that encouraged any victims of sexual abuse by William "Bill" Casey to come forward.
The letter was also read at the Saturday evening vigil at Notre Dame, and at weekend services at Catholic churches throughout the Diocese of Knoxville, which encompasses all of East Tennessee.
Casey, 76, of Greene County, was permanently removed from priestly duties by Bishop Stika last week after the bishop said that Casey admitted to him that sexual abuse charges made by Warren Tucker, 44, who now lives in Jeffersonville, Ind., had credibility.
The incidents allegedly took place during a five-year period beginning about 1975, when Tucker was a 10-year-old boy in a parish where Casey was pastor.
The letter from Bishop Stika was read by Father John Appiah, parish priest at Notre Dame, immediately after the gospel during the 8 a.m. Mass.
LETTER TO ALL CATHOLICS OF EAST TENNESSEE
The bishop's letter read:
"My dear friends in Christ,
"As the Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, I want to apologize to you all.
"The sexual abuse of minors by anyone is a travesty of the greatest magnitude and is an abomination before God. Last Wednesday a report of sexual abuse was brought to our attention and I want to outline the steps we took as soon as we learned of it.
"On Wednesday morning, April 14, Mr. Warren Tucker met with our Chancellor Deacon Sean Smith and a member of our Diocesan Review Board. Mr. Tucker accused Father Bill Casey, a retired priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, of sexually abusing him while Father Casey was pastor of St. Dominic Church in Kingsport, TN., between 1975 and 1980. At that time, St. Dominic Church was a part of the Diocese of Nashville.
"Within two hours of learning of the allegations of sexual abuse, we immediately took a series of steps, according to the procedures outlined in our long-standing diocesan policy on sexual misconduct.
"The policy is available on our Diocesan Web site (at www.dioknox.org).
"We notified the district attorney's office and the police department in the jurisdiction in Tennessee where the offenses were said to have taken place as well as the jurisdiction where Father Casey currently resides.
"That evening, I met with Father Casey, and he admitted that there was credibility to Mr. Tucker's statement. Father Casey is ashamed of his actions and truly saddened by the harm he has caused Mr. Tucker, his family, the Church, and its faithful.
"On Thursday morning, I held a press conference at the Chancery to inform the community of our findings and to ask their help in disseminating news of this case so that if there are other victims, they may also courageously step forward so that healing can begin.
"As Bishop of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, I want to apologize to Mr. Tucker, his family, and to anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey or by anyone in authority in the Diocese of Knoxville.
"I applaud Mr. Tucker and all the brave men and women -- the victims and their families -- for seeking healing and justice, and I strongly encourage any victim of abuse to come forward.
"As your Shepherd, I want to assure you that we have acted swiftly to remove Father Casey from ministry and that he will never again function as a priest in the Catholic Church.
"I know that you look to the Church for guidance and support. You have a right to expect your children to be safe at Church and at school.
"And so, when we hear details of individuals abusing and molesting children, we are horrified, repulsed and even heartbroken.
"Some of you may feel as though you have lost your faith in God and in the Church, in the midst of these difficult circumstances. It is my prayer that you will not allow the emotions of the moment to sway your thoughts, beliefs, and most of all, your faith.
"I also want to publicly address my good and faithful priests. Every time an incident of sexual abuse involving a priest comes to light, it is like a punch in the gut to us. It brings us to our knees in sorrow, prayer, and penance -- profound sorrow and prayer for the victim.
"These are our children too, and we hurt for the victims and their families.
"I also hurt for my brother priests who will once again have doubts about how people will look at them and what people will think. The abuse of children is not a problem that is limited to priests or caused by celibacy. It is a widespread problem in our society, and we must face it together.
"I ask you to join me in praying for all victims of abuse throughout the world. I also ask you to pray for Father Casey. God's mercy knows no bounds, but for Father Casey, who must now answer to the justice that is due, we pray that his own prayers and penance will bring divine assistance in bringing healing to the victims and to our local Church.
"In conclusion, know that as I pray the Divine Office each morning and evening, I will be praying for all of you, that you will receive God's healing embrace, His comfort, and His peace.
"Sincerely in Christ,
"Most Reverend Richard F. Stika
"Bishop of Knoxville"
MASS AT NOTRE DAME
Father Appiah opened the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at Notre Dame church by announcing, "We pray today for Mr. Tucker and Father Casey, and for our church."
Ironically, it was the Third Sunday of Easter, during perhaps the most festive and important time of the Church year for Catholics.
Notre Dame, a rapidly expanding congregation of 436 families, celebrates its 55th anniversary next weekend.
A $1.26 million expansion project is under way next to the church off Mt. Bethel Road in Greeneville, with a new parish center scheduled to open in the next month or so.
After Father Appiah finished reading the bishop's letter he added a few comments of his own, linking them to the day's gospel, John 21:1-19, in which Jesus reveals himself to his Disciples for the third time following His death on the cross.
"We acknowledged the hurt," Appiah told the congregation. "Now we must help. We must reach out."
The pastor went on to say, "Yes, we acknowledge a sinful act. Now, ultimately, we need to practice charity."
In a brief interview after the Mass, Father Appiah talked in general terms about the reactions and feelings of persons in the congregation upon hearing the news about Father Casey, who was pastor at Notre Dame from June 1972 to June 1976, and again from August 1997 to the summer of 1999.
"Some were crying," Appiah said. "Some were trying to control their emotions."
"Others were confused," he said. "Some others were not wanting to confront it (the revelations.)
Appiah, who is a native of Ghana, also said that different cultures -- and different people -- grieve differently.
Bishop Stika, 52, was born in St. Louis, Mo., to parents of Polish descent. The bishop himself speaks fluent Polish.
He was ordained a priest in 1985 and served as a parish priest at various churches in the St. Louis area.
He served as chancellor (1994-2004) in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, secretary to Cardinal Justin Rigali (1994)-1997), and vicar general (1997-2004).
Stika was also the primary coordinator of the visit by Pope John Paul II to St. Louis in 1999.
Immediately prior to being named Bishop of Knoxville, he served from 2004-09 as director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
He was appointed Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville in early 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
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