Diocese of Knoxville Settles Sexual Abuse Lawsuit out of Court
By Amy McRary
December 31, 2019
The Catholic Diocese of Knoxville has reached an out-of-court settlement with a Blount County man whose lawsuit alleged he was sexually abused as a child by two priests.
The settlement means the July suit bought by attorneys for Michael Boyd of Blount County will not proceed in Knox County Circuit Court.
The terms and amount of the financial settlement were not disclosed in a seven-paragraph announcement issued today by the diocese. The diocese and church officials also admit no wrongdoing in the settlement.
The money paid to Boyd will be covered by the diocese's insurance and won't impact its budget or charity work.
"The diocese has throughout denied the validity of the claim. However, the diocese also recognizes that further pursuing this matter through the legal system would be time-consuming, costly, and detrimental to its mission of service," the statement issued by diocese's spokesman Jim Wogan read in part.
Boyd's attorney could not be immediately reached by USA Today Network-Tennessee. In the suit, attorneys asked for both compensatory and punitive damages but did not list a dollar amount.
Sexual abuse allegations: Survivors group wants independent investigation into Catholic clergy abuse in Tennessee
Lawsuit alleged childhood abuse
In Boyd's 20-page lawsuit, the former altar boy claimed he was repeatedly sexually abused for about two and a half years in the 1990s by longtime Knoxville priest Xavier Mankel The suit also alleged Bishop Anthony O'Connell, the diocese's first bishop, abused Boyd at least twice.
Both Mankel and O'Connell are dead.
|Monsignor Francis Xavier Mankel (Photo: Submitted)|
The abuse, the suit contended, left Boyd with "severe psychological injuries, and emotional harm" that included loss of his faith, "mood swings, intimacy problems, emotional disconnection in relationships, anxiety, rage and the loss of enjoyment of life."
In its announcement, the diocese characterized the settlement as "an act of pastoral outreach."
"Despite my personal feelings regarding the claim which names two now-deceased priests, I hope that this action offers Mr. Boyd a path to peace and reconciliation," Bishop Richard F. Stika said.
The lawsuit filed by Memphis attorneys Gary Smith and Karen Campbell says the abuse began in 1991 when Boyd was a fourth grader at Sacred Heart Cathedral School. The allegations included that Mankel groped Boyd and that the action "escalated to fondling, grooming, and other sexual activity."
Mankel, who died in 2017 at age 81, was a Knoxville native and a priest for 56 years. His positions included being pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral from 1987 to 1997. He helped found the Knoxville diocese, serving as its first chancellor and vicar general. He was later appointed monsignor.
Mankel isn't on lists issued by Catholic authorities or survivor support groups that name priests accused of abuse.
|Bishop Anthony O'Connell was the first bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville. He died in 2012. (Photo: News Sentinel Archives)|
O'Connell, who died in 2012, became the diocese's first bishop when it was formed in 1988. In 1998, he became bishop in Palm Beach, Florida. But he resigned in 2002 after admitting inappropriate conduct with minors in Missouri decades earlier and before he was in Knoxville.
In 2018, before his lawsuit, Boyd met with Stika and also filed a report with Knoxville police. Diocesan officials said they then contacted authorities about the allegations and also turned over information from 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 in a July letter sent to priests, deacons, school leaders and others shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
Abuse issue for Catholic Church
Allegations of clerical abuse and cover-up have become an issue for the Catholic Church since the scandal exploded into the national consciousness almost 17 years ago in Boston.
More recently, dioceses in Tennessee and nationwide have issued lists of former priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Other names have been issued by survivor support groups, including Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. It set procedures for addressing allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors and came after The Boston Globe's investigation into priest abuse and the ensuing national crisis.