What the Latest Investigations Into Catholic Church Sex Abuse Mean

— About 20 state attorneys general have mounted investigations that have cataloged decades of abuse but yielded few criminal prosecutions.

The numbers of accused priests and incidents of abuse in the Catholic church peaked between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, according to a 2011 study.

By Ruth Graham

The nearly 900-page report landed like a grenade when Josh Shapiro, then the attorney general of Pennsylvania, delivered it on a stage in Harrisburg, Pa., five years ago. It detailed widespread sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church throughout Pennsylvania, and a “sophisticated” cover-up by senior church officials. Victims of abuse and their families, sometimes visibly weeping, joined Mr. Shapiro on the stage.

More than 300 priests were found to have abused children, at least 1,000 of them, over the course of seven decades. The report reverberated at the highest levels of the church, with the Vatican expressing “shame and sorrow” over the findings. And it reached the pews, too: A Gallup poll the next year found that more than one-third of Catholics in the United States were considering leaving the faith because of “recent news about sexual abuse of young people by priests.”

In the years since the Pennsylvania report was published, it has inspired some 20 other investigations into the Catholic Church by state attorneys general.

Now the results of those investigations are rolling out, refocusing attention on the sprawling abuse scandal, and in some cases providing fresh details. The attorney general of Illinois, Kwame Raoul, released a report in May that found more than 450 credibly accused child sex abusers in the Catholic Church in Illinois since 1950. Almost 2,000 children under 18 were victims.

These reports have not led to many criminal prosecutions: many of the accused have died, or statutes of limitations have expired. But victims of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates say the reports have had a lasting impact in other ways. In some states, the reports have helped persuade legislators to extend time limits for victims to sue alleged abusers. And many victims say that such public and official acknowledgment of what happened is a welcome step.

“People talk about this being about sex, or a more academic analysis describes it as being about power,” said Terence McKiernan, the president of BishopAccountability.org, an advocacy group. “But it’s also about information.”

Investigations have been concluded in seven states so far, and others are continuing, according to CHILD USAdvocacy, a group that supports stronger child abuse legislation.

The status of some of the investigations is unclear, frustrating activist groups. For example, the attorney general’s office in California invited victims to come forward with their stories in 2018, and later issued subpoenas to several Catholic dioceses. The office has not issued a public update on the investigation in years, and did not respond to a request for comment.

The sheer numbers in the state reports published so far are staggering: 163 perpetrators in Missouri, 97 in Florida, 188 in Kansas. There have been long lists of credibly accused priests and others in Catholic ministry, thousands of pages of victims’ narratives, and front-page headlines about the findings. Attorneys general have been photographed with towering stacks of documents, hoisting doorstop publications that are the product of years of research and interviews.

The number of accused priests and incidents of abuse peaked between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, and have declined significantly since then, according to a 2011 study commissioned by Catholic bishops and conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Bishops in the United States adopted new protocols in the early 2000s to crack down on abuse, including a range of “zero tolerance” policies. Historically, the church withheld information about priests who were sexually abusive, often moving them from parish to parish without informing people in the pews. The reports have pushed many dioceses to publish or update their own lists of credibly accused clergy members.

Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, has disputed some aspects of the Illinois attorney general’s report, and questioned the way some of the data was presented. Even so, the archdiocese cooperated with the investigation, and Cardinal Cupich issued a statement apologizing “to all who have been harmed by the failure to prevent and properly respond to child sexual abuse by clerics.”

A woman in a white shirt wipes tears from her eyes, while another woman sits next to her clasping her hand.
Victims of clerical sexual abuse and their relatives became emotional as Josh Shapiro, then the attorney general of Pennsylvania, spoke at a news conference in 2018 about a report on decades of abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses.

“The A.G. reports are a measure of accountability, even though they don’t have a ton of teeth,” said Kathryn Robb, the executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, who helped write the new Maryland law. “They educate the public, and they educate lawmakers to understand: they have this ‘holy crap’ moment.”

Survivor groups have urged the Department of Justice to mount a federal investigation of the church. Other groups have tried to sue the church under federal and state racketeering laws, but those suits have fizzled because of high legal hurdles, including the need to prove “injury to business or property,” according to Stephen Rubino, a lawyer who tried the civil racketeering approach in a suit against the Archdiocese of Camden in the early 1990s. (That case was settled; Mr. Rubino later attempted another racketeering suit that was dismissed.) Many dioceses, facing waves of new civil suits, have filed for bankruptcy.

For Mr. Shapiro, who is now the governor of Pennsylvania, the report became a signature achievement of his tenure as attorney general. On the campaign trail, he said, people frequently pulled him aside to thank him for the report, sometimes identifying themselves as victims of specific priests who were named in it.

“From a Pennsylvania perspective, the most significant thing is the way we gave a sense of justice to the victims here,” Mr. Shapiro said in an interview on Wednesday.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul of Illinois, in a dark suit and blue tie. stands at a lectern with the American flag and three women behind him.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul of Illinois spoke in May about his office’s investigation into sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy members in the state.

Mike McDonnell, 54, says he was abused by two priests in the Philadelphia area starting when he was 11. He told no one at the time what had happened to him. He began drinking as a preteen, and later became addicted to drugs. His story was mentioned in a 2005 report by a grand jury on sexual abuse in the archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Mr. McDonnell said he probably would never have confronted the reality of the abuse, had he not seen the men who abused him named in the 2005 report. “Knowing myself, I would have continued to anesthetize myself and find other compartments in my soul to bury it,” he said.

At first, he said, he found it destabilizing to see his experience reflected in the report. He learned that he was not alone, and that leaders in the archdiocese of Philadelphia knew for years about the behavior of the two priests who abused him.

One of them, Francis Trauger, was convicted in 2020 of molesting two altar boys and was sentenced to 18 months to 36 months in prison. Mr. McDonnell, who now works for an advocacy group for victims of clerical sexual abuse, was in the courtroom for the sentencing.

“Seeing that in print and in the public record is really monumental for those who have not had a voice,” Mr. McDonnell said. “That validation is really a kick-start to one’s healing journey.”

Complete Article HERE!

Survivors group points to cracks in visa system for foreign priests after 8-year-old First Nations girl abused

— Canada has no standard requirement for background checks for people coming to Canada doing religious work

Arul Savari, a Roman Catholic priest, is charged with sexual assault, sexual interference, sexual exploitation of a young person, luring a child and forcible confinement.

By Rachel Bergen

There are too few checks and balances for international members of the clergy who come to work in Canada, according to a group that advocates for survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of religious leaders.

A Roman Catholic priest has been accused of sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl in a remote Manitoba First Nation, and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) says it’s too easy for a foreign priest to be seconded into a Canadian congregation by using religious visas, with little, if any, scrutiny of their backgrounds.

“There has to be a higher screening and a higher supervision rate when it comes to just allowing someone to come in and drop their bags into a parish community,” said Mike McDonnell, a spokesperson for the network in an interview from his home near Philadelphia on Friday.

Arul Savari, 48, who is originally from India, is facing a myriad of charges involving the alleged assault of the girl in Little Grand Rapids First Nation, and Manitoba RCMP say they’ve identified other potential victims.

The eight-year-old girl was alone with the priest after he asked her to help him clean the church when he allegedly touched her inappropriately, RCMP said earlier this week.

A simple building with a white cross and bell erected in front. Snow is on the ground.
Savari was a priest at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Little Grand Rapids. This photo was posted to his Facebook page in December 2018. Advocates for people abused by priests want to see greater oversight and screening of foreign-educated members of the clergy who come to Canada.

Savari has been living in Winnipeg for six years and served in Little Grand Rapids for the same amount of time. He serves the Catholic Church under the Archbishop of St. Boniface.

Savari was also the priest at nearby Pauingassi First Nation.

As far as RCMP are aware, the priest only served in those two First Nations while in Canada.

After his arrest, the Archdiocese of St. Boniface said Savari was suspended from all ministerial duties and “forbidden to have anything to do with former parishioners and children.”

Alistair Clarke, an immigration lawyer in Winnipeg says that from an immigration perspective, it’s not a standard requirement for people who enter the country as religious workers exempt from work permits to provide a background check or child abuse registry.

He said the federal government would rely on the employer or the religious institution to do that check.

A border patrol officer would have the authority to check on the person’s background if there are concerns about their criminal background, Clarke said.

It’s not clear how Savari entered Canada, or if he had an exemption for a work permit because he is a religious worker.

In 2017, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a policy to verify identity, screen for criminal background and child abuse history, and encouraged other dioceses to adopt it. At that time, many dioceses had a similar policy in place.

The Archdiocese of St. Boniface has a policy in place that asks all church employees and volunteers over 18 to submit to a criminal record check and a child abuse registry check.

Little Grand Rapids Chief Oliver Owen met with Archbishop Albert Legatt on Friday afternoon and said the archbishop had checked with Savari’s previous employer before he was brought to Canada, but didn’t check with police there.

CBC News has asked a number of questions of the Archdiocese on Thursday and Friday and didn’t receive a response as of Friday evening.

McDonnell says fewer people are becoming ordained in the Catholic Church, so it must seek workers in other countries to fill roles in Canada.

The says it doesn’t track how many priests are from outside the country.

Abuse in church ‘a thing of the present’: SNAP

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an organization with more than 25,000 members and support groups in over 60 cities worldwide, monitors arrests of religious figures for allegations of abuse with the help of its partners.

McDonnell says some may think that abuse carried out by Catholic leaders was a historical issue, but for the last two years, at least two people in positions of authority have been arrested for abuse per month globally, according to the network’s own numbers.

“It just goes to show that despite what church officials say, that this is a thing of the past, it is far from the thing of the past. It’s very much a thing of the present,” he said.

A woman with short red hair is pictured in an orange shirt that has an illustration of four women on it. Behind her are a number of tents and people.
Sue Caribou is pictured in a 2021 file photo. The residential school survivor wants to see all parties be more intentional about screening priests that go to work in First Nations.

Sue Caribou, a survivor of the Catholic church-run Guy Hill Residential School near The Pas, Man., says she was disturbed by the news of the assault.

“It’s still happening. When is it ever going to stop,” she said in an interview on Thursday.

Although not a victim of sexual abuse herself, Caribou says she witnessed the luring and abuse of other children at Guy Hill when she was forced to attend, and grew up learning about roadblocks to telling the truth.

“People won’t believe you and you’ll be judged in the community and there’s a lot of obstacles to come forward,” she said.

Caribou believes there needs to be more rigorous screening of religious leaders going into communities, including by the First Nations leadership.

A yellowish and green church building is pictured on a snowy day.
St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Little Grand Rapids is pictured in a December 2018 Facebook photo.

“We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know anything about the person that’s coming into the community to preach,” she said.

McDonnell echoes that call and says the federal government has a responsibility to protect Canadians by ensuring cracks in the system are closed by requiring a background check.

“We feel that it has to fall on the shoulders of the government to be able to protect its people and certainly the most vulnerable of our society. These measures need to be put in place so that we are not talking about this again in 10 years.”

A map showing the location of the city of Winnipeg in the south, and Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations northeast of Winnipeg.
Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi First Nations are remote communities in eastern Manitoba. RCMP said Arul Savari served in his role as priest in both communities.

Both the Vatican ambassador to Canada and the Archdiocese of St. Boniface should also be held responsible for Savari, McDonnell said.

Additional abuse cases recently surfaced in Canada

Last week, it came to light that one of the most notorious child abusers in Newfoundland and Labrador history has popped up in another investigation into allegations of Catholic child abuse in the United States.

Ronald Lasik, a member of the Christian Brothers of Ireland until his death in 2020, is one of 451 men “credibly accused” of abusing children in Illinois while holding a position of authority affiliated with the church, according to an investigation by that state’s attorney general.

Lasik is well-known for his time at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s during the 1950s, where he is convicted of abusing six children. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1999.

A black and white photo of a young white man with brown hair wearing a dark coloured smock.

Ronald Justin Lasik was a teacher with the Christian Brothers, stationed at Mount Cashel Orphanage in the 1950s. He would later be sentenced to 11 years in prison for abusing the kids under his care. A recent investigation has linked him to other allegations of abuse in Illinois and Australia. (St. Bonaventure College Yearbook)

He’s also accused of abusing other children in Illinois and Australia after he left Canada.

“Where there is money, there’s often cover ups of crimes involving children and vulnerable adults,” McDonnell said.

“I absolutely truly believe that this is one of the darkest periods in the Church’s existence and most likely the most challenging since the Protestant Reformation.”

Complete Article HERE!

Spanish Catholic bishops find evidence of 728 sexual abusers, 927 victims since 1945

Toledo Cathedral in Toledo, Spain.

By CiarÁn Giles

Spain’s Catholic bishops’ conference says it has found evidence of 728 sexual abusers within the church since 1945, through the testimony of 927 victims, in its first public report on the issue.

The church said 83% of the victims and 99% of the abusers were male and that more than 60% of the offenders were dead.

In a report presented Thursday, more than 50% of offenders were said to be priests. The rest were other church officials.

The church said that most cases occurred in the last century, 75% of them before 1990.

The conference said the collection of testimonies was continuing and the figure would be updated periodically. The data was collected in some 200 offices for the protection of minors, set up by the church around Spain in 2019.

Leading daily El País, which has been reporting constantly on cases in Spain and abroad, said Friday the real figures of abuses within the church were likely to be much higher, as the church report only referred to cases recorded since 2019 and did not include the number of cases the church was aware of before that date.

A Madrid-based law firm that is conducting a parallel inquiry ordered for the Spanish Episcopal Conference has told the media that the number of victims is likely to be in the thousands. The firm has yet to produce its results.

Up until very recently, the Spanish church has been reluctant to carry out investigations or release information on sexual abuse cases. Spain’s state prosecutor earlier this year complained that the bishops were withholding information. The bishops denied this.

“Members of this our church have hurt other members of the church or society,” said César García Magán, the Spanish Episcopal Conference secretary general, said at the presentation. ”And for this reason, we feel pain and shame.”

But he said that this would be meaningless if it did not lead to changes in the ways children were protected and offenders sidelined. He said the church was also committed to sharing its findings and must use the lessons learnt to ensure “sexual abuses do not occur again in the heart of the church.”

The bishops´ report said the abuses occurred mostly in schools, seminaries, and parish buildings.

Spain’s parliament voted in 2022 to open the first official investigation led by the country’s ombudsman into the extent of sexual abuse committed by priests and church officials after El País published allegations of abuse involving more than 1,200 victims.

Earlier this year, the ombudsman said his independent commission had collected testimonies from 445 victims, but the probe was continuing.

Only a handful of countries have had government-initiated or parliamentary inquiries into abuse like Spain’s.

The most extensive took place in Australia. In 2017, it found that 7% of Catholic priests were accused of abusing minors between 1980 and 2010. Judge-led investigations in Ireland from 2005 impacted the Catholic Church’s once-dominant influence in society and politics.

And in France, an independent inquiry estimated in 2021 that some 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy or other Catholic-affiliated lay employees from 1950-2020.

In neighboring Portugal, an expert panel said this year that more than 4,800 individuals may have been victims of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Complete Article HERE!

Documents reveal growing criticisms, concerns about Knoxville bishop’s leadership

— A former diocese organist filed suit in February 2022. Some laity and priests are unhappy with Stika’s staunch defense of a seminarian accused of rape.

Bishop Richard F. Stika waves to the congregation during his during his episcopal ordination March 19 at the Knoxville, Tenn., convention center. Bishop Stika, a St. Louis native, is the third bishop to lead the Diocese of Knoxville, which was founded in 1988 and is home to almost 60,000 Catholics.. At left is principal consecrator Cardinal Justin F. Rigali of Philadelphia.

By John North

Knoxville Catholic Bishop Richard Stika is facing increasing criticism and scrutiny over his leadership, including how he’s handled accusations that a former seminarian raped a church musician, newly gathered documents show.

The musician is suing Stika and the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville in Knox County Circuit Court. Judge Jerome Melson is expected to hold a hearing Friday for the musician’s lawyers and diocesan attorneys.

The hearing comes as local and national attention grows about the diocese, the boundaries of which stretch from Chattanooga to Knoxville and on up to the Tri Cities. An online publication called The Pillar has published numerous stories critical of Stika’s leadership since 2021.

Complaints against him gained even greater prominence May 11 when the National Catholic Reporter published a lengthy story about the bishop and his leadership.

WBIR previously has reported about the ex-organist’s February 2022 lawsuit as well as a federal complaint filed in November 2022 against the diocese by a Honduran woman who alleges a Gatlinburg priest sexually battered her.

In recent weeks, however, numerous internal documents including emails, reports and handwritten notes from 2021 and 2022 have surfaced as the organist’s lawsuit slowly advances through the legal system.

They show priests in the Knoxville Diocese expressing increasing complaints about Stika, 65, and his handling of a rape allegation made against the Polish seminarian. They’ve been baffled by his persistent support of the seminarian, records show.

Bishop Stika at a past ceremony at the cathedral.

Many of the documents appear to serve as the basis or source of allegations in the musician’s February 2022 lawsuit, which alleges defamation and negligence. The organist is suing the diocese and Stika; he is not suing the seminarian.

Records and two secret audio recordings from 2021 also show Stika steadfastly defending the now former seminarian and at times scolding and criticizing those who have questioned him.

“Bishop Stika has a history of intimidating people he does not agree with or like,” one priest wrote in October 2019 as tensions mounted within the diocese.

“We humbly ask for appointment of a new Bishop who we can believe in, put our faith in, and who can appropriately guide us in our Catholic lives,” a 2022 petition on change.org from a lay member and Chattanooga area attorney states.

Appointed in 2009 to come to Knoxville, the bishop previously has told priests that he is staying right where he is.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” Stika told the men during a meeting May 25, 2021, after controversy over the Polish seminarian arose. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

In May, three priests in the diocese also met with WBIR to express their concerns.

The diocese said it could not comment because of the ongoing litigation.


The organist worked in the diocese from 2015 until August 2019.

WBIR is not naming him because he alleges he is a rape victim. WBIR is not  naming the former seminarian — whose name is widely known within the diocese — because he has not been charged with a crime.

In January 2019, the freshly arrived seminarian struck up a friendship with the organist.

According to the lawsuit, the musician alleges the seminarian sought a sexual relationship. He states in his complaint that he was “pressured into brief sexual touching and oral sex on isolated occasions. Plaintiff did not feel particularly attracted to (the seminarian) and was not interested in a sexual relationship with someone so forceful and aggressive.”

The Polish man would at times forcefully kiss the organist, the lawsuit alleges.

The organist is seven years older than the seminarian, Stika has said.

The seminarian wanted to keep his physical relationship with the musician secret, according to the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, the musician kept up his association with the Polish man “because he felt bad for him as a gay seminarian.” He also alleges he felt obliged to stay on good terms because the seminarian had a close relationship with Stika, who had taken him in. Stika has said the seminarian came recommended by the late Pope John Paul II’s personal secretary in Poland.

Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in West Knoxville.

On Feb. 5, 2019, the organist alleges, the seminarian came on to him aggressively, pinned him down and raped him to the point that he suffered bleeding.

The musician alleges he went to bed that night “in shock and pain” and that the seminarian spent the night with him in bed.

Five days later, the seminarian left a Catholic prayer book for the organist with an inscription of well wishes from Stika. Four days later — Valentine’s Day — the Polish man handed him a card and a bottle of Champagne. In the card he expressed thanks for his friendship and added, “And for what was wrong — I apologize with all my heart.”

According to the lawsuit, the musician went to the Knoxville Police Department on Feb. 25, 2019, to report the rape. But the lawsuit states that a KPD officer told him if he pursued the criminal case the church would “come after” him and he’d lose his job. It would be his word against the seminarian’s, the plaintiff says he was told.

No rape charge was ever filed.

The musician alleges he tried to avoid the seminarian but the Polish man “stalked” him.

On March 29, 2019, some six weeks after the alleged rape, the two young men had dinner at a restaurant with Stika. Because of Stika’s position as bishop, the musician alleges he felt he had little choice but to go along with the dinner.

A photo — submitted with the lawsuit — was taken of the trio, with Stika on one side of the table and the two younger men on the other.

“At the end of dinner, Stika asked (the organist) if he ever had any trouble with his co-workers,” the lawsuit states. “(The musician) felt constrained to answer no, given (the Polish man’s) relationship with the bishop.”

In August 2019, six months after the alleged rape, the musician moved on to Atlanta. He filed his lawsuit 18 months later in Knox County.

During 2019, the seminarian lived at Stika’s West Knox County house along with retired Cardinal Justin Rigali, a longtime mentor of Stika’s. The seminarian drove the older men around as needed.  Stika would later say — at a 2021 meeting secretly recorded in Knoxville — that he’d lost sight in one eye and didn’t trust his driving.

The seminarian also traveled with Stika and Rigali, including joining them on a trip to the Vatican.

In the fall of 2019, the seminarian went off to Saint Meinrad seminary school in Indiana. By early 2021, however, he’d been dismissed, records reviewed by WBIR show.

Some of his fellow seminarians in Indiana reported that he’d touched them inappropriately or acted inappropriately around them.

Letter to the bishop from Saint Meinrad on March 1, 2021, about the seminarian.

In one encounter in January 2021, he tickled and grappled with a student who was visiting Tennessee from out of town. He also sent unwanted and invasive Snapchat messages about his penis, documents reviewed by WBIR state.

Another seminarian reported that while at Saint Meinrad in February 2021, he caught the Polish man spying into his room from across the courtyard.

The seminarian was dismissed from the Indiana school that month, an email shows.

On March 1, 2019, Meinrad President-Rector the Very Rev. Denis Robinson wrote Stika that the school had decided to dismiss the Polish man because of what his fellow students had experienced and also because of online accusations that had emerged about the 2019 alleged rape.

“While we have no way of adjudicating the reliability of this case, its presence on the internet is very damaging to a seminarian,” Robinson wrote. “Once again, many of the interactions we have had with (the Polish man) in the past have been quite positive, but I do believe that the issues raised by the seminarians need to be addressed and corrected before (the Polish man) can re-enter seminary formation.”

In two years’ time, Robinson wrote, they’d be willing to review his case “if you (Stika) see that as a proper move.”


Emails, notes, reports and the two audio recordings from spring 2021 show rising skepticism, even anger, about the way the bishop handled the Polish seminarian.

Reports about the man’s conduct with the organist began circulating in the diocese in early 2021.

On Feb. 26, 2021, after dismissal from Saint Meinrad, Stika sent a note to priests in the diocese stating that the seminarian had entered a “two-year period of discernment,” meaning he would be reflecting on what God wanted him to do. He wrote that the man would be helping him in the Chancery in Knoxville and helping the octogenarian Cardinal Rigali.

His note offended some priests in light of allegations about the seminarian’s aggressive, sexual conduct, documents show. Priests complained Stika was giving him special treatment.

A formal investigation was needed, one priest wrote. Furthermore, he wrote, Stika needed to be held accountable.

A March 11, 2021, email from the bishop to an attorney and senior members of the diocese stated, “I have informed the individual of his need to return home. I am working with his former school on when this would be necessary.”

Any assumption that the Polish man would be sent home to Eastern Europe, however, proved false. Instead, Stika sought to have him go off to Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo., Stika’s alma mater and hometown, to enroll at the diocese’s expense, a letter shows.

Carleton E. “Butch” Bryant, a church member and former staff attorney for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, notified Stika and members of the diocese’s internal Diocesan Review Board that he was calling a March 25 meeting to consider whether they should formally investigate allegations against the seminarian, records show.

The board is a “confidential consultative body” to the bishop, according to the diocese.

An investigation was indeed launched, with George Prosser, a former Tennessee Valley Authority inspector general, tapped to do the investigative footwork.

Stika, however, as he would later say at a May 2021 meeting with area priests, didn’t like the way Prosser conducted the inquiry. He asked questions that confused and upset people in the diocese, he said. Prosser was a nice man, he’d say later, a 75-year-old neighbor, but he wasn’t the man to handle the investigation.

He removed Prosser.

Diocesan Review Board member Christopher J. Manning took Prosser’s place.

Note to board about Manning report.

Manning’s report shows he interviewed the Polish seminarian April 16, 2021. He did not talk with the former church organist or the students in Indiana at Saint Meinrad.

Three days before, however, Bryant sent an email to members of the Diocesan Review Board stating that Stika had informed him the investigation “is closed.” They could all talk about it at an upcoming meeting later that month, Bryant’s email states.

After his interview, Manning prepared an April 16, 2021, report for Stika, Bryant and Vicar-General Doug Owens.

In his interview, the seminarian said he’d been friends only with the musician and that there’d not been mutual sex. He said the musician told him he was gay, the report states.

He alleged that the musician initiated sex with him during a trip in late January or early February to Atlanta, Manning’s report states. The seminarian said he resisted the overture. The seminarian told Manning they shared a king-size bed in Atlanta and that the musician tried to perform oral sex in the middle of the night.

The pair traveled to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon in May 2019, according to Manning’s report. While in their Las Vegas hotel, the seminarian claimed he saw the musician and a young Hispanic man kiss and have sex.

In June 2019, according to his conversation with Manning, the seminarian said the musician told him he was moving to Atlanta. They had dinner and the musician gave him a shirt as a gift, the report states.

The seminarian denied any inappropriate conduct with the men at the Indiana seminary school, the report states.

“There is no indication that Mr. ——— was untruthful during this interview. He did not hesitate (sic) any of the questions and provided specific details when those were requested,” Manning wrote.

Bryant sent the Manning report to the Diocesan Review Board on April 28 ahead of that night’s meeting. Emails show some in the diocese strongly disagreed with the conclusion of the investigation and lack of action against the seminarian. It was one-sided, they said.

Interior of the Knoxville cathedral, the construction of which the bishop considers to be among his most important contributions to the diocese.

One priest wrote that Stika had impeded the investigation. He wrote that the bishop had a history of “intimidating” people who disagree with him, records show. The bishop had even threatened to resign because he thought it wrong to send the seminarian back to Poland, according to the priest.

In a letter dated April 12, 2021, four days before Manning talked with the Polish seminarian, Stika wrote “To Whom It May Concern” at Saint Louis University that the Knoxville Diocese would cover room, board and tuition for the seminarian in the amount of $48,258 for the fall 2021 school year.

“(He) will not in any way be a burden to the United States of America or the State of Tennessee,” the letter stated.


Stika addressed priests in the diocese in meetings in May and June 2021. A priest recorded the gatherings, and they’ve now become part of the allegations contained in the organist’s lawsuit.

The meetings came soon after another critical online piece by The Pillar.

The bishop told the men he regretted having invited The Pillar to come to Knoxville and see the work of the diocese for itself. He warned against speaking to the media because the priests wouldn’t be able to control that outcome.

“He (The Pillar writer) doesn’t care about us. He just wants to sell subscriptions,” Stika said in the June 8, 2021, meeting. “He moves on, and here we are.”

He told the men he believed the musician was the sexual aggressor, not the Polish seminarian.

Draft of letter to Chrisophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio, from 2021.

By September, some priests in the diocese had begun putting together a letter seeking action by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. They expressed their reservations about Stika’s leadership. The nuncio acts as a liaison and formal representative of the pope.

Multiple priests signed the letter sent to Pierre. They did not get a response, according to three priests who asked that their names be withheld to avoid possible retaliation.

A Vatican investigative team did end up traveling to Knoxville and interviewing various people, according to the priests and several Catholic media reports. But there’s been no obvious action.

In addition, records show, respected priest Father Brent Shelton quietly drafted an email to Stika, circulated among various priests, that questioned him about the church investigation and what Stika was doing to serve the diocese. Shelton ended up leaving the diocese this spring after Stika proposed moving him from his Oak Ridge church.

The “drip, drip, drip” of new allegations was worrisome, the draft email circulated among some priests states.

“We are losing parishioners; parents are questioning whether to entrust their children to our schools and we are given little guidance into how this matter is progressing and when and how it will end,” the email stated.

In October 2022, Chattanooga area attorney and lay diocese member Theresa Critchfield also prepared a letter on her TLC Law stationery about Stika’s leadership. It was uploaded as a petition to change.org.

The Oct. 3, 2022, letter was directed to Pierre in Washington as well as Jose Horacio Gomez Velasco, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and to the Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, the archbishop of Louisville, which presides over the Knoxville Diocese.

According to the letter, members of the Chattanooga Deanery had lost faith in Stika “as our shepherd.” The letter cited among other things church finances and Stika’s handling of the seminarian’s time in Knoxville.

Letter from Chattanooga Deanery lay member, posted on change.org.


There’s been little movement with the organist’s lawsuit since it was filed in February 2022.

Judge Melson has granted the defendants’ request that the organist amend his lawsuit to identify himself by name rather than as “John Doe”. The amended complaint was filed in January.

The former seminarian moved to St. Louis and is believed to still live there, according to the three priests.

On May 11, the independent National Catholic Reporter, which has reported for decades on the church, published a lengthy story that included an interview with Stika, Critchfield and unnamed priests, among others. The story detailed multiple concerns among parishioners and priests about the state of the diocese. It reported some in Knoxville feel “demoralized” by the ongoing turmoil.

Stika told the newspaper he didn’t practice retribution. He said he also saw great progress across the diocese, which has some 70 priests and more than 70,000 parishioners.

“I see growth, I see financial stability, I see vocations and I see happiness,” he told the paper.

The organist’s lawsuit is the second to challenge Stika’s leadership in recent years. A complaint filed in November 2022 on behalf of a Honduran woman alleges she was sexually battered by priest Antony Punnackal in 2020 inside a Gatlinburg church.

The federal lawsuit names the diocese, Punnackal and the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate as defendants.

The complaint also alleges the diocese tried to discredit her and to silence her when she began making accusations against Punnackal. The complaint is on hold while a criminal case against the priest proceeds in Sevier County Circuit Court.

Punnackal was removed from active ministry in January 2022, according to the diocese. He appeared earlier this month at a court hearing in his case in Sevier County.

The sexual battery trial is set for September.

Antony Punnackal and his attorney, Travis McCarter in May 2023.

Complete Article HERE!

Stay, leave or convert

— Some Catholics at a crossroads about religion amid sexual abuse allegations against priests

By Jasmine Vaughn-Hall

Allison Dietz loves to hear the children laughing and enjoying the playground at St. Mark School in Catonsville, within an earshot of her house. But these days, after the release of a report that detailed decades of sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the laughing triggers somber thoughts.

“You can’t help but think about all the children who were not protected,” she said.

Dietz, a Catholic since birth, said the release of the attorney general’s report was the final straw for her devotion to the Catholic faith. It was a “kick in the gut” to find out that a dozen sexually abusive priests had served at St. Mark Parish next to the school and playground, she said. She no longer identifies with the religion or supports the church. She’s separated herself from everything she’s known in religion to trek her own path and spiritual journey.

St. Mark School, in Catonsville, Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

Many Catholics seem to be at a crossroads following the release of the report in Maryland and allegations of other such abuse across the country. People are leaving organized religion completely, converting, or continuing to observe only certain parts of their Catholic heritage. Others are sticking with it, choosing to blame the people, not the religion.

This is happening as people are already generally moving away from organized religion.

In the U.S., roughly three out of 10 adults are unaffiliated with religion, according to the Pew Research Center. Since the research center started measuring religious identity in 2007, the percentage of adults who said they were atheist, agnostic or otherwise unaffiliated grew from 16% to 29%.

At least 63% of the nation’s population identified as Christian, which includes Catholics and Orthodox. In a separate study, people who did not identify with a religion said they didn’t believe in the business-like and hierarchical nature of religious groups and question religious teachings. Some also mentioned the clergy sex abuse scandal as a deterrent from organized religion and opposition to social and political stances of churches.

Dietz said separating herself from Catholicism hasn’t come easily. She’s having a tough time coming to grips with disowning the teachings and beliefs that have been ingrained in her since she was a child. And, how at one time, she accepted many of those teachings and beliefs as true.

Marlene Winell, a licensed psychologist in the Boston area who works with those recovering from religious harm, said she thinks the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is “far and above” any other scandal in religious groups.

“It’s shocking, so people will sometimes get disgusted with the church and not want to be a part of it. The hypocrisy is something people don’t like very much,” said Winell, who wrote the book, “Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion.”

Mary Joseph “Mary Jo” Rogers once loved seeing the children line up to donate toys for less fortunate families at the Christmas Eve Mass at her church. Catholicism is all she’s known, and she’s learning that you can’t fully separate from it. She came from a very devoted Catholic family. She even jokes that every good Catholic family needs a “Joseph” and a “Mary” and she got both names. When she was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon for her parents to have dinner and sip Southern Comfort Manhattans with a monsignor who was a longtime family friend. She went to Catholic school from first grade to high school and even a few years of college.

She was in the choir and hosted Bible discussions at her house. She enjoyed Sunday Mass and the elaborate services for Easter and other holidays. She still gets mail from St. Ursula, a church she attended for over 25 years, filled with color-coded envelopes to support the church with a request to “try to give 5% to God.”

But today, she can’t walk into a church. She’s afraid she might start yelling at a priest.

“How can I go in and have someone like that guide my spiritual well-being? They’re only there to protect themselves and their money. There’s no such thing as a poor priest,” she said.

Mary Jo Rogers, pictured in her home on May 23, 2023, with her religious artifacts, many of which are family heirlooms. Rogers says she feels betrayed by the church and can’t go back. She still has her Catholic faith, but it is separate from the institution.

Rogers said she started to feel a shift in her thoughts about the church after watching the Netflix docuseries, “The Keepers,” which explored the murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse. Rogers said it’s not only the abuse that’s unsettling for her, but the pervasive cover-up involved. The initial Maryland report released in April had redacted names throughout, several of which The Baltimore Banner has since identified through independent reporting.

As a mother, grandmother and a former police officer, Rogers said, she feels betrayed and duped. She has no plans for it to happen again.

She misses her church, the traditions and being a part of a place to practice her faith. She still keeps a brown scapular, a small statue of Blessed Mary and a baby-blue beaded rosary by her bedside for protection. Catholicism isn’t something she can just throw away, she said.

“I lost a large part of my life, my history,” she said, reflecting on how her involvement with the church dwindled.

Rogers and her daughter are considering converting to the Episcopal Church, she said. It was her mother’s denomination before she converted to Catholicism and a denomination in which women can reach the priesthood.

Mary Jo Rogers, pictured in her home on May 23, 2023, with her religious artifacts, many of which are family heirlooms.

Leaving or sticking with Catholicism sparked complex conversations and debates on Facebook recently. Betrayal. Guilt. Loss. Hope. The emotions people said they felt over the issue were mixed. Some say they are still cultural Catholics, drawing a deep line in the sand between their faith and the institution. Many cannot turn a blind eye to how the sexual abuse cases were handled. Many high-level officials in the church are accused of covering up abuse and moving accused priests from parish to parish.

People also shared that they left even before major details were released about the sexual abuse because they didn’t agree with the church’s stance on abortion, the LGBTQ community and the way women are treated. The report just reaffirmed their decisions.

But some say it is unfair that the whole church has been tainted by the scandal. They are disappointed that the sexual abuse is taking over the identity of the religion, especially since there’s still charitable work being done by good people who are Catholic.

Ann Zelenka doesn’t deny that the church has a lot of work to do. She is still an active Catholic, going to Sunday Mass with her husband. Her faith, she said, transcends the institution and is at the core of who she is.

“If they took the institution away tomorrow and there was no public Mass, I would still do something to honor the day,” she said.

Ann Zelenka keeps a St. Christopher rosary bracelet with her often after a friend gave it to her when she was going through a tough time. Catholicism is a decision-making tool for her life, she said.
Ann Zelenka keeps a St. Christopher rosary bracelet with her after a friend gave it to her when she was going through a tough time. Catholicism is a decision-making tool for her life, she said.

As someone who was homeschooled most of her life, she grew up in a niche Catholic community. The Communions, going to Mass, the sacraments and feast days were all special to her growing up. However, she doesn’t think the institution and its followers can move forward without acknowledging the damage and harm that’s been done. Certain “figureheads” have gotten in the way, she said, of practicing the religion “authentically.”

Zelenka said an apology isn’t enough, that the church needs to rectify and mandate change.

“For anyone in the Baltimore community that feels alone and wants to remain Catholic, there is hope beyond this travesty that has existed, but we must fully acknowledge the travesty to move forward,” she said.

Dietz said she feels a sense of freedom since she decided to leave Catholicism. It’s a religion she said is built on fear where “you’re made to feel you can go to hell for even the smallest transgressions.”

Initially, she thought she would convert to another denomination, but she’s content figuring out what she wants to do day by day without the pressure of someone telling her how to connect with God, she said. It’s an opportunity she never saw for herself.

“Removing the veil of shame, fear and guilt that the Catholic doctrine so often espouses has been peace-giving for me,” Dietz said.

Catholics, she added, are taught to be afraid of going to hell. For those considering parting ways with Catholicism, it’s not so much about leaving Jesus than it is leaving the church because “salvation in the Catholic Church is through the church,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!