Former altar boy was abused by a Knoxville priest and ex-bishop, lawsuit alleges

By Amy Mcrary
Knoxville Sentinel
July 22, 2019

Rev. Monsignor Francis Xavier Mankel with Holy Ghost Catholic Church speaks during the Interfaith Prayer Service at First Christian Church on Fifth Avenue Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, as a part of King Week Celebration 2013.

Rev. Monsignor Francis Xavier Mankel with Holy Ghost Catholic Church speaks during the Interfaith Prayer Service at First Christian Church on Fifth Avenue Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, as a part of King Week Celebration 2013.

Xavier Mankel in 1951.

Father Xavier Mankel in 1961.

Father Xavier Mankel, Pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in 1986.

Bishop Anthony O'Connell in 1998.

[with video]

An East Tennessee man says he was repeatedly sexually abused by a longtime priest and the first bishop of the Knoxville diocese, and was offered up to visiting priests for "inappropriate sexual conduct" in a church sacristy.

Attorneys for Blount County resident Michael Boyd are suing the Diocese of Knoxville in a Knox County Circuit Court lawsuit filed July 18. Boyd's lawyer said he is OK with his name being used in news reports.

While the diocese is the only named defendant, the 20-page lawsuit claims the former altar boy was repeatedly abused in the 1990s by longtime Knoxville priest Xavier Mankel and at least twice by Bishop Anthony O'Connell.

The bishop and the priest

O'Connell, who died in 2012, is the best-known figure named in the suit. He became the first bishop of the Knoxville diocese when it was formed in 1988. Ten years later, he became bishop in Palm Beach, Florida. He resigned in 2002 after admitting inappropriate conduct with minors in Missouri decades earlier and before he was in Knoxville.

The suit alleged that Mankel, a priest for 56 years, was Boyd's main predator. Naming Mankel as an abuser is likely to shock many Knoxville Roman Catholics. He hasn't been named on lists of priests accused of abuse that have been released by Catholic authorities or survivor support groups.

Mankel, who died in 2017 at age 81, was a Knoxville native and a Catholic institution for decades. His positions included serving as pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral from 1987-1997. 

He helped found the Knoxville diocese, serving as its first chancellor and vicar general. He was later appointed monsignor.

Music teacher suspended

The suit also contends William Lovelace, then a Sacred Heart music teacher, tried to get Boyd to "touch him inappropriately" during a guitar lesson.

Lovelace is still employed, but the diocese announced it has suspended him from his job at two unnamed East Tennessee Catholic schools.

The diocese suspended Lovelace after reading the lawsuit's allegations against him. In a statement, Bishop Richard Stika said Lovelace was suspended "with respect to a presumption of his innocence,"' until allegations "can be thoroughly and independently investigated."

Stika issued a letter July 19 about the lawsuit to priests, deacons, school leaders and others. In it, he said officials previously knew of Boyd's allegations against Mankel but did not find them credible.

It took years for Boyd to "take action with fear," the suit said. He filed a 2018 report with the Knoxville Police Department and met with Stika as well. 

In his letter, Stika said diocese officials turned over materials given them by Boyd to an independent investigator. "The result of that independent investigation concluded that there was no finding of credible evidence to support the allegiants," Stika wrote.

Abuse allegations

The lawsuit filed by Memphis attorneys Gary Smith and Karen Campbell says the abuse began in 1991 when Boyd was a Sacred Heart Cathedral School fourth grader, and continued about two and a half years.

The suit contends Mankel began abusing Boyd one day after Mass as the child was removing his altar boy garments.

"Father Mankel approached him from behind and grabbed him by the sides of his arms and shoulders and pulled him close. Father Mankel told him a dirty joke and pulled him closer," the suit reads. Boyd "could feel the priest's penis up against his back."

The suit contends Mankel groped Boyd and that "escalated to fondling, grooming, and other sexual activity." Boyd would often be late to class after Mass and sometimes cry in the bathroom, the document says. 

Boyd sometimes tried to get away, the suit alleges, but the priest "would grab and pick him up," telling him the actions were "part of "Father Mankel's 'Love Therapy' which evolved into 'Touch Therapy.'" The suit contends that Boyd was told that touching would help him work through "physical, spiritual, emotional and mental pain."


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