Disgraced Ex-leader of Diocese of Palm Beach Dies at 73

By ByJulius Whigham
Palm Beach Post
May 10, 2012

Former Diocese of Palm Beach Bishop Anthony O'Connell, who resigned a decade ago after admissions of sexual misconduct, died Friday at a South Carolina monastery.

O'Connell died at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, S.C., after a long illness, the Catholic News Service reported. He was 73.

A funeral Mass was held for him on Monday at the abbey.

Diocese of Palm Beach spokeswoman Dianne Laubert confirmed O'Connell's death Wednesday evening and issued a brief statement on the diocese's behalf.

"The diocese is praying for his family at this time," Laubert said.

O'Connell came to the five-county Palm Beach Diocese in 1999 in the wake of a sex scandal that unseated the previous bishop. In 1998, Bishop J. Keith Symons resigned after admitting that he sexually molested five boys early in his career as a priest.

But on March 8, 2002, it was O'Connell who resigned, admitting that he improperly touched a former student at a Missouri seminary more than two decades earlier.

In 2004, he settled lawsuits with two men who said that O'Connell had sexual relationships when they were teenagers in Missouri.

O'Connell's confession and his resignation caused a cataclysm in the Palm Beach Diocese.

With his announcement, Palm Beach became the only diocese in the United States to lose two bishops in a row to the sexual abuse scandal, which continued to convulse the church. Many area Catholics were incensed with the Vatican, which had assigned O'Connell to the diocese despite his history.

O'Connell was born May 10, 1938, in Lisheen, Ireland, and became an ordained priest in 1963.

On the day of his installation as bishop of the Palm Beach Diocese, O'Connell celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving and became spiritual leader of 250,000 Roman Catholics in five counties.

O'Connell traveled extensively to establish himself as a presence in both the church and secular community. He logged more than 30,000 miles in his first year in the diocese and became known for his talkative and sociable nature.

By contrast, O'Connell's monastery life later was one of silence and prayer.

O'Connell lived in a 10-by-15-foot monastic cell and followed the rigorous Trappist prayer schedule, which began at 3:20 every morning.

He also performed manual labor and menial tasks demanded by the regimen, including work on the chicken farm the monks operate.

"He is healing himself and turning to God," a spokeswoman for the monks said after his arrival there following his departure from the diocese.








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