Hidden children

— Brendan Watkins is one of thousands of children of priests who found their biological parents through DNA testing and social media. His birth wasn’t the only secret his father kept.

BY Suzanne Smith

There is a half-crumbling church, covered in red dust, at Radium Hill, a former uranium mine deep in the South Australian desert. It was built by Father Vincent Shiel, with his own hands, in 1956. Six years later, his son Brendan was born in Melbourne to a former nun — a secret the priest kept until he died 37 years later.

Brendan was one of the lucky ones. Both he and his brother Damien were adopted by Roy and Bet Watkins, in Richmond, Melbourne. As Damien, who was adopted two years before Brendan, recalls: “One day a clergyman was talking to Roy and said, ‘Uh, how come you don’t have children yet?’ And Roy said, ‘Well, we haven’t been blessed’. And he said, ‘Maybe that’s something we can help you with’.”

A sepia toned photo of two smiling toddlers dressed in white for a formal photograph
Adoptive brothers Brendan and Damien Watkins in 1962.

Brendan and Damien had an idyllic life with Roy and Bet, who were huge Richmond Tigers fans. They told the boys they were adopted when they were young, but it was Brendan who was most curious about finding his biological parents.

In 1990, at the age of 29, Brendan decided to apply for his original birth certificate because it would carry the names of his biological parents. A meeting was set up at the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau in Melbourne. But it wasn’t what he expected.

Bet and Roy Watkins in the 1980s.

“I was hoping that the birth certificate would have both parents’ names,” says Brendan. “It just had my mother’s”. And she wasn’t 16, 17 or 18, as he expected, but much older — 27 — and from South Australia.

Brendan asked the social worker to contact her, but she was reluctant. He was later called back for another meeting. “I was told that I wouldn’t meet my mother, I wouldn’t talk to her,” he says. “And very directly told to go home and forget about her forever. It was the most wounding, impactful trauma of my life.”

A search for answers

Brendan has discovered that globally there are thousands of children of priests, just like him, who as adults found their biological parents through DNA testing and social media groups. There are 450,000 Catholic priests around the world and, though there are no accurate records, it is estimated that they have fathered over 20,000 children.

Crucially, a 25-year study of 1,500 Catholic priests found less than half the priests in the United States attempt celibacy — which experts say is a major factor fuelling so-called reproductive abuse. The study’s author, ex-priest Richard Sipe, argued it creates a culture of secrecy that tolerates and even protects paedophiles — though he estimated that four times as many priests involve themselves sexually with women than with children.

Brendan’s partner Kate did her own research on Brendan’s mother and eventually found one of her relatives. “I recall being at work, and Kate rang and said, ‘Are you sitting down? I found your mother. She’s a nun’, he says. “I pictured my mother in a nun’s habit in a convent walking silently through churches … it gave me some peace.”

Father Vincent Shiel

But he still had many questions — and was determined to find answers. He eventually made contact with his mother, ‘Maggie’ (not her real name) through letters and a short visit. But who was his biological father? “What followed was essentially 30 years of different stories,” Brendan says. “My father was dead … or she didn’t know what happened to my father.”

Maggie eventually gave Brendan a name, but it turned out to be false. “I wrote back to my mother, and I told her that. And she wrote back and said, ‘Well, I was dumped and so were you’. And she was right … the chase was over.”

Five years later, in 2015, Brendan sent a DNA sample to Ancestry.com.au. Four men came back as possible candidates for his father. One was ruled out. “He was a Catholic priest, so it couldn’t be a Catholic priest. Could it?”

The site of the old Catholic church at Radium Hill.

But Brendan’s mother Maggie then confirmed he was indeed the son of Father Vincent Shiel, who died in 1993, at the age of 90. He was still alive when Brendan first contacted Maggie.

But the priest had sworn his mother to secrecy – Brendan says this was a form of spiritual abuse. “It says so much about the misogyny of the Catholic church, the institution,” he says. “It’s a male-centric institution that doesn’t recognise the rights of women. I found that my mother had met my father when she was 14 or 15, and he was 30 years older … so he had enormous influence over her.”

Documents missing, records destroyed

Now he had his father’s real name, Brendan applied to Mackillop Family Services in Melbourne for his file. The archivist couldn’t find any records and told Brendan this was very “unusual”. Brendan had to appeal to the Victorian Department of Justice to receive his file.

“The more children of priests I met and spoke with, I found all sorts of anecdotal stories about destroyed records and people knowing and systems within the church [for] hiding the children of priests and documents going astray,” says Brendan, who was unable to track down his birth records and baptism certificate.

Charlotte Smith, the chief executive of Vanish, an advocacy agency for adopted persons in Victoria, says it’s an “ongoing theme”. “Records have been known to fall off the back of a truck or be destroyed in fires,” she says. “I think it’s really important to investigate what happened. We have quite a few adoptees over the years who have found no paper trail.”

Brendan has made several trips to remote South Australia to find out more about his father and the diocese he oversaw.

Brendan has spent the last few years writing a book about his adoption journey — Tell No One — published this week. He has made several trips to remote South Australia to find out more about his priest father and the diocese he oversaw. From 1943 to 1977, Father Vincent Shiel lived and worked across a vast area of remote inland towns and coastal cities.

But Brendan’s birth wasn’t the only secret Father Vincent Shiel kept. In 1950, Father Shiel received a call from a doctor from Whyalla Hospital on the Eyre Peninsula. A baby had been born 10 days earlier to a 16-year-old girl who fell pregnant to a farm worker. The problem was, the baby had been left languishing in the ward.

That baby is now 72 years old and lives in Perth.

A bible and rosary belonging to Father Vin Shiel.

The right to know

Father Vincent Shiel organised for a young woman to take the baby to Sydney to be brought up by his brother, William Shiel.

Terry grew up the youngest of 10 children. His siblings later told him Father Shiel had sworn them to secrecy. Terry always felt lucky to have such a loving family, and William’s last words to him were: “Just remember, you are my son and you always will be.”

Terry only found out he was adopted in his 30s, when he applied for his birth certificate. It showed he wasn’t officially adopted until he was two years old. He confronted the priest, who was living in the Blue Mountains, and asked for the name of his biological mother.

Terry’s father

“I said to him, ‘I found out I was adopted … can you help me out? And I’m trying to track down my birth mother.’ And he sort of shook his head and said … [they’re] probably all dead.”

But Terry’s biological mother wasn’t dead — he eventually met her before she died four years ago — Father Shiel had told him a lie. “I think it’s something that should have been brought out in the open a long, long time ago,” he says. “Everybody has a right to know where they come from … what their background is.”

A global issue

Greens Senator David Shoebridge says Terry’s case raises concerning questions. “These are extraordinary facts that seem to show a national undocumented trade in babies being run by the Catholic Church, says Shoebridge. “But from a systemic level it raises just so many troubling questions about what happened and where the documents now lie.”

There has never been a global scholarly study on the numbers of children of priests and nuns. But in 2022, Doris Reisinger, a senior academic at the Goethe University in Frankfurt and a former nun published a landmark report on the issue in the United States.

“We are definitely talking hundreds of thousands of children affected by reproductive abuse,” says Dr Reisinger, who has examined thousands of pages of survivor accounts, court documents and newspaper articles. “I found the first abortion case involving a 13-year-old girl. And I found cases with girls even younger than that — 11-year-olds who had become pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a priest.”

Dr Doris Reisinger says the clerical power of priests and mandatory celibacy are often a perfect cover for reproductive abuse.

In many cases, Dr Reisinger says, mothers were put under pressure by priests to have abortions or were coerced into hiding, where they’d give birth under “terrible” circumstances.

“I actually think we can assume that this is still going on because none of the contributing factors has been erased,” she says. “The clerical power of priests, mandatory celibacy that often works as a perfect excuse and cover for reproductive abuse — all of that is still fully in place. And no major research has [looked] into reproductive abuse. So there is still lots to be done.”

What DNA evidence reveals

Linda Kelly Lawless is another child of a priest who is seeking official recognition of her ancestry from the Catholic Church through Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli.

Linda’s father Father Joseph Kelly said mass for pregnant unwed mothers who came to the St Joseph’s Receiving Home in Carlton to have their babies and adopt them out. Linda says he was having an affair with her mother at the same time – she was not at the home.

“Only a few months later he was actually using the adoption system to get rid of me, which happened the following year,” she says. “And when I was born … my paperwork was never finished and … seemed to vanish from this hospital. All my paperwork has ‘baby for adoption’, false names, I can’t find my baptism records.”

Linda Kelly Lawless has asked the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne for a letter recognising they acknowledge Joe Kelly is her father.

Over the last five years, Linda has met with Archbishop Comensoli and presented him with many documents, including DNA reports and affidavits from family members. But Archbishop Comensoli said while he personally believed she was the daughter of Father Joseph Kelly, any formal recognition would need to come from the state, not the church.

Linda engaged the US company Parabon, which is used by the FBI and Queensland Police Service in criminal and missing persons cases. “I had legal DNA testing with Parabon in America, and a cousin from my grandfather’s side and a cousin from my grandmother’s side set forward,” she says .“The results came back that I was 99 per cent related to both of them.”

Polaroid style photos of a girl with brown hair in pigtails and a young male priest in a clerical collar
Linda Kelly Lawless as a girl and her dad, Father Joe Kelly.

Linda presented the results to Archbishop Comensoli. In April this year, she received a letter in response in which he suggested an exhumation of Father Joseph Kelly’s body would be necessary in order for the Catholic church to officially recognise Kelly has her father. He wrote:

“In saying this, I must be very clear that I cannot state categorically that he is your biological father. There is simply not the level of information to do so. You have provided significant evidence of a shared heritage, but it directly doesn’t lead to a singular person … I again note that although I do not have the authority to request an exhumation of Father Joseph Kelly, if it is to be sought, it would need to come from you. I would be prepared to support such an application from your yourself.”

The Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli.

In a statement, Archbishop Comensoli told Compass that the Archdiocese of Melbourne has “supported Linda … and have offered financial support”:

“There is no denying the historical fact that priests have fathered children. The church now steps forward in finding ways to acknowledge children who have priests as their father.

“I cannot state categorically that Fr Kelly is her biological father — there is simply not the level of information to do so at this point in time.

“Regardless of the above, I have shared with Linda in writing that I believe that Fr Kelly is her biological father.”

Linda says she will consider exhumation if that is what it takes to get official recognition from the Catholic Church.

The cemetery where her father is buried has allowed her to take ownership of his plot and put her name on the headstone. “I now actually own my father’s and grandfather’s grave in the private Catholic cemetery,” she says. “They seem to believe my evidence and DNA was enough to show that he was my father.”

She says she is not seeking legal compensation: “I’ve asked for a letter of recognition that they acknowledge that he’s my father. I asked for some support to sort out my birth certificate because it’s not finished. I don’t have a surname, which they have helped me with. I asked for an apology for my mother.”

Charlotte Smith says a public inquiry would help provide victims and survivors with “some sort of justice”.

An inquiry for truth and justice

Vanish, the peak adoption advocacy group in Victoria, is calling for an independent public inquiry into the treatment of the children of priests and their mothers.

“It’s clearly the case that he’s the father and it would appear that since they’re not accepting responsibility, that an inquiry is required to push that,” says Charlotte Smith. A public inquiry would help shed light on how many children have been fathered by priests, she adds, and provide victims and survivors with “some sort of justice”.

Dr Reisinger agrees: “We need an independent inquiry with a strong political backing and with thorough scholarly experience to look into this.”

David Shoebridge is calling for a federal inquiry into the treatment of the children of priests and their mothers.

Federal Greens Senator David Shoebridge wants a federal inquiry. “There clearly needs to be an inquiry which has the power to compel the truth out of the church,” he says.

“We cannot leave these people who were literally stolen at birth by the church to do this fight alone. This is a matter that I think needs to be closely considered by the Federal Attorney General and by the federal government — the fact that it was happening all over the country and the fact that these children were moving across borders.”

Brendan Watkins wants an inquiry to also look at the church’s treatment of the mothers.

“In truth, there’s probably thousands of women like my mother, who live with enormous shame and guilt,” he says. “And they suffer.”

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!

Catholic order hires independent monitor to oversee members convicted of sex crimes

— Survivors question why Oblates of Mary Immaculate isn’t identifying the overseer

Ken Thorson, provincial leader of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said it was decided not to release the name of the third party monitor because their work is ‘sensitive.’

By Ben Andrews

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order that operated 48 of Canada’s residential schools, has hired an independent third party to oversee efforts to ensure members who have committed sex crimes do not reoffend.

Some sexual assault survivors have praised the hiring as a positive development — but have also criticized the Oblate’s decision to withhold the monitor’s name.

Tony Charlie, who was sexually assaulted by an Oblate brother during his time at Kuper Island Residential School starting in the mid-1960s, said the hiring of an independent monitor is “a good step.”

He also said it’s impossible to confirm that the monitor is truly independent if the Oblates are unwilling to release the hire’s name.

“We have no clue who this person is,” he said. “It’s very important that these abusers be accountable and visible and probably monitored closely.”

Tony Charlie, a survivor of the Kuper Island Residential School in British Columbia, poses for a photo.
Charlie says the hire is ‘a good step’ but adds he has little faith in the church.

The Oblates hired the monitor in December 2022 and expect he will begin monthly meetings later this month.

The monitor will meet with Oblates who are convicted sex offenders — men who abused children in residential schools, northern Indigenous communities and various parishes across the country.

A CBC investigation in June 2022 confirmed that at least nine such offenders had taken refuge at the Springhurst retirement residence in Ottawa after being released from prison.

“Our concern is to ensure good oversight, appropriate external oversight,” said Ken Thorson, provincial leader of the Oblates.

“[We] want to find the person who we felt was going to provide us with the accountability that we need to ensure that we’re doing what we’re meant to do.”

The monitor will be reporting to a misconduct advisory team that may advise changes to an offending Oblate’s safety plan, if deemed necessary.

CBC has confirmed at least nine convicted sex offenders have taken refuge at the Springhurst residence in Ottawa.

Monitor ‘has no connections’ to Oblates: Thorson

When asked why the Oblates aren’t identifying the monitor, Thorson instead described the monitor’s work history, which includes investigating workplace harassment and abuse in organizations ranging from large corporations to social services agencies and Indigenous communities.

Thorson said the monitor “has no connections” to the Oblates, but he refused to identify the person.

“For the sake of the work, for the sake of the people that he’s working with, we’ve chosen at this time not to release the name,” Thorson said.

He added that the Oblates “might be willing” to consider sharing the name of the third party monitor with some survivors to assure them the hire is indeed independent.

Other survivors who spoke to CBC also said they’d like the name to be released.

Leona Huggins, a founding member of Advocates for Clergy Trauma Survivors in Canada, was sexually assaulted by an Oblate priest in the 1970s.

Huggins was sexually assaulted by a priest as a young girl and is now an advocate for others who’ve been abused by Catholic Church clergy in Canada.

Huggins said she is aware of other instances where the Catholic Church has assured people it is making an “arm’s length” hire, but the person has turned out to have close connections to the church.

“Without knowing the name of the person, it’s hard to trust that they can be fully independent,” she said.

Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said survivors of clergy abuse are often promised action, only to be disappointed by a lack of follow-through.

“Survivors who were abused by someone in the Oblates would probably be looking at this with a little bit of hope and a lot of skepticism,” he said.

Thorson said he is “always willing” to be in touch with survivors and has listened to their stories in the past.

“People have suffered — children and vulnerable people have suffered at the hands of Oblates,” he said. “Making amends for the sins of our community is the most important work that I do.”

But for Charlie, those efforts have fallen short.

“Not one of them has stepped forward to help us heal. None of them have checked up on us,” Charlie said. “I really don’t have faith in them right now.”

Complete Article HERE!


— Slovene bishops condemn Jesuit artist’s abuse

By Nicole Winfield

Slovenia’s Catholic bishops on Thursday condemned as “despicable” the emotional, sexual, and spiritual violence committed against women by a famous Slovenian priest at the heart of an abuse and cover-up scandal roiling the Vatican and the Jesuit order of Pope Francis.

The Slovene bishops’ conference broke three weeks of silence with a statement in which the churchmen also voiced solidarity with the victims of the Rev. Marko Ivan Rupnik and urged anyone harmed by him or any other priest who abused his authority to come forward.

“It is never the victims’ fault! We are on their side,” the bishops said. “Any misuse of spiritual power and authority to carry out violence against subordinates is an unacceptable and despicable act.”

The scandal involving Rupnik, a Jesuit from Slovenia whose mosaics decorate churches and chapels around the globe, erupted earlier this month when Italian blogs and websites reported claims by several women that Rupnik sexually, spiritually and psychologically abused them.

The Jesuits initially insisted there was a single allegation against him in 2021 that the Vatican’s sex abuse office shelved because it was too old to prosecute. Only under questioning did the Jesuits acknowledge that Rupnik was convicted and excommunicated a year earlier for committing one of the most serious crimes in the church — using the confessional to absolve someone with whom he had engaged in sexual activity.

The Jesuits also subsequently acknowledged that the 2021 case actually involved allegations by nine women.

The 2021 claims date from the 1990s, when Rupnik was a spiritual adviser to a Jesuit-affiliated community of consecrated women in Slovenia. They came to light after the Vatican sent an investigator to look into complaints about the way the community was being run. Learning of the alleged abuses, the investigator urged the women to make formal complaints.

The Vatican’s sex abuse office, known now as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, hasn’t responded to questions about why it didn’t waive the statute of limitations on the 2021 allegations, as it often does, especially given Rupnik’s conviction and temporary excommunication by the Vatican the previous year.

The Vatican spokesman similarly hasn’t responded to questions about what, if anything, Francis knew about the claims involving his fellow Jesuit or whether he intervened. The pope and Rupnik last met on Jan. 3.

In their statement Thursday, which was posted in three languages, the Slovene bishops said that even though the Vatican’s sex crimes office determined the 2021 allegations were too old to prosecute, they “are always reprehensible and demand condemnation.”

The case has laid bare some uncomfortable issues facing the Holy See, chief among them its general unwillingness to consider clergy sexual and spiritual misconduct against adult women as a crime that must be punished. Rather, the Vatican has long considered any sexual activity between adults as consensual and a mere lapse of priestly chastity, without considering if there was an abuse of authority involved that caused victims trauma.

Additionally, the case has raised questions about whether Rupnik got preferential treatment given his artistic talents and status as a famous, sought-after Jesuit at a time when the pope’s order is in a position of influence at the Holy See. The Vatican office that handled his case is headed by a Jesuit prefect, has a Jesuit sex crimes prosecutor and a former No. 2 who lived in Rupnik’s Jesuit community in Rome.

And it has raised the question about the proportionality of canonical punishments: Many priests have been removed from ministry entirely for lesser seeming crimes. Yet Rupnik was allowed to keep preaching, celebrating Mass and most importantly, making his art even after having incurred excommunication, albeit temporarily.

Even the Slovene bishops seemed to want to separate Rupnik’s crimes from his good works, describing him as an “outstanding artist and insightful spiritual leader.”

“We beg you, with this tragic realization in mind, to distinguish his unacceptable and reprehensible actions from his extraordinary spiritual and artistic accomplishments in mosaics and other areas,” they said.

Francis hasn’t responded in any public or specific way to the revelations, which have also implicated supporters of Rupnik who sought to discredit his accusers by questioning their mental health. But Francis appeared to address the issues it has raised in a general way Thursday, during his annual Christmas greetings to Vatican bureaucrats.

“Besides the violence of arms, there is also verbal violence, psychological violence, the violence of the abuse of power, the hidden violence of gossip,” he said. “May none of us profit from his or her position and role in order to demean others.”

Complete Article HERE!

Baltimore archbishop battled against release of abuse documents for nearly 8 years

— ‘I fought the good fight’

Baltimore Catholic Archbishop William Lori greets parishioners after delivering Sunday Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in July 2019, in Randallstown, Md.

BY Jonathan M. Pitts

As bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Most Rev. William E. Lori fought for nearly eight years — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — to prevent the wide release of information about the history of child sexual abuse in that branch of the Catholic Church.

The soft-spoken prelate argued in the case two decades ago that what was already publicly known about sexual misconduct by clergy in the diocese was all the information the public needed to grasp the scope of the crisis and understand who was responsible.

Now archbishop of Baltimore, the 71-year-old Lori is facing a tidal wave of criticism — and even calls for his resignation — as the Maryland Attorney General’s Office seeks to release the results of its four-year investigation into the abuse of children by Catholic clergy in Baltimore and nine counties in the state.

Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh announced last month that his team had finished its sprawling probe, and his staff quickly filed a motion in Baltimore Circuit Court to make the 456-page document public. After five days, the archdiocese announced it would support its release, but The Baltimore Sun confirmed a week later that the archdiocese is paying legal fees for an anonymous group of current and former employees who seek to influence what is disclosed.

The Connecticut and Maryland cases are in many ways different. In Bridgeport, Lori filed a motion on behalf of his diocese to prevent the release of thousands of documents related to abuse cases. In Baltimore, the archdiocese is supporting those who seek to affect the release — instead of taking such a step itself. Meanwhile, the identities of those seeking to control the outcome are under seal.

In an interview with The Sun, Lori defended his actions in both dioceses. He’s also used messages to parishioners, including a video on the archdiocese website, to expound on his reasoning in the Maryland case.

“The archdiocese does not and will not oppose the report’s release,” Lori says in the video. “But we [have] also pledged to support the rights of some people who are mentioned in the report, but not accused of abuse, and who were not given the ability to respond to the attorney general during the investigation.”

To some who have followed both cases, Lori’s approaches to the two situations are strikingly similar, and not in a positive way.

“I can’t pretend to read his mind, but in Connecticut, he seemed to be in favor of transparency even as he worked against it,” said Terry McKiernan, a co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit that tracks clergy abuse cases. “He tries to have his cake and eat it, too.”

Gail Howard, a co-director of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, rejected the archbishop’s reasoning.

“Lori’s explanation — hiding the truth in case it might get misused — doesn’t cut it,” Howard said. “In what universe does sealing information promote transparency? People in Bridgeport legitimately wanted to know what happened in their diocese, and he wants to keep things secret because some little group might get hurt? He’s doing the same thing down there he did up here.”

By the time Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Bridgeport in 2001, Lori was making a name for himself among church leaders as a man to help reform policies, procedures and attitudes around abuse.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Lori had helped Cardinal James Hickey in Washington craft one of the first child-protection policies in the U.S. Catholic Church.

Fellow bishops tapped him to help write the 2002 Dallas Charter, guidelines for addressing abuse by priests in the U.S., and sell it to the pope. However, Lori and the other authors were criticized for omitting bishops (on the grounds they were subject only to papal authority) from the charter’s first version. Subsequent documents have established how bishops can address other bishops’ misconduct.

When Lori arrived in Connecticut, the diocese was reeling from widespread reports of abuse and a long-percolating lawsuit filed by 24 victims. Lori’s charge included changing the culture created by his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan, who displayed a “dismissive, uncaring, and at times threatening attitude toward survivors,” according to an independent report in 2019.

Lori removed abusive priests, put an anti-abuse policy in writing and enforced it, met with survivors and set up a victim assistance program. The 2019 report credited him with starting “meaningful outreach efforts to survivors for the first time in the diocese’s history.”

Lori did draw fire for keeping a priest in ministry in Bridgeport despite the man’s inclusion in a legal settlement. A diocesan review board found allegations against the priest weren’t credible, Lori said, and disentangling his case from others would have been too expensive.

Then there was the legal battle. Just days before he was installed in Bridgeport, diocesan officials announced a $15 million settlement of the lawsuit. Lori said the deal specified that more than 12,000 documents related to the abuse be sealed from public view and ultimately destroyed. But four newspapers, including the Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe, filed a motion to have them released. Lori fought back.

Among the principles his lawyers cited was that the government has no inherent right to the internal documents of a church, which they argued is a private entity.

Others should sound familiar to those following the ongoing debate about the attorney general report in Maryland.

Lori maintained that news coverage had made the names of every abusive priest publicly known and that the plaintiffs were free to tell their stories. He held that unsealing the documents would unveil private information, such as medical records and the names of previously unidentified survivors, and endanger church employees mentioned in the documents who were not accused of wrongdoing.

“There were a number of priests who had unsubstantiated allegations [against them], who had been very carefully investigated, and [the allegations were] found not to be credible,” Lori told The Sun. “To be mentioned publicly would have unfairly destroyed their lives and careers.”

The fight made it to the Connecticut Supreme Court, which in both 2005 and 2009 affirmed an order by a lower court to give the newspapers access to the documents. Lori charged that the judge in the case had a conflict of interest and alleged the press had “intervened” in a settled case. His appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court came up short: the high court declined to extend a stay on the sealed materials.

Lori expressed his displeasure in the form of a blog post after one of the rulings.

“Sadly, the history of this case has been about access by the secular media to internal Church documents of cases more than 30 years ago to suggest, unfairly, that nothing has changed,” he wrote. “This is despite the extraordinary measures the Catholic Church has undertaken over the past several years to treat victims with great compassion and dignity, and to put in safeguards and educational programs to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again.”

Survivor advocates were relieved at the outcome, but some remain frustrated with Lori for taking the case as far as he did. To John Marshall Lee, a former board member of the Bridgeport chapter of the Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics founded in 2002 over concerns about abuse in the church, the battle Lori fought belied his assertions he was a reformer.

“Many people of faith ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’” Lee said. “Lori was a strong officer in the bigger church hierarchy of maintaining a defensive position on the issue of clergy abuse. But where are the studies about why these collared men were doing what they did? What about the people who are still struggling? I think Jesus would have been more with the victims.”

Baltimore Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria, who is handling the case of the attorney general’s report, issued a gag order in the case Dec. 2. Lori cited it in his Dec. 8 interview with The Sun in no longer taking questions about the report or its potential release.

The attorney general’s motion to release the report said it identifies 158 priests who abused some 600 children over the past 80 years.

The archdiocese has argued those figures support claims it has been in the vanguard of U.S. dioceses in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse over the past two decades.

When the archdiocese instituted a new policy by disclosing the names of 57 credibly accused priests in 2002, it was only the second of the nation’s more than 180 to take the step (nearly 20 still don’t). Lori has expanded the disclosure program, adding names, brief accounts of the offenses in question, and the work histories of each accused man. The diocesan website currently lists 152 accused.

Frosh said in a November interview that he does not believe clergy abuse remains a crisis in the archdiocese.

Archdiocesan spokespersons who have read the report, which Frosh’s office shared with the church, say its named offenders include the 152 names on the church’s website. The list was among more than 100,000 documents the archdiocese turned over to investigators.

What the church’s critics don’t know has left them to wonder what the anonymous archdiocesan-backed group hopes to achieve or can accomplish by having their say with the judge. If they get a hearing, will the opponents press the court to withhold names or other information? Who, the watchdogs want to know, are the archdiocese employees who are mentioned but not accused of abuse?

McKiernan said that in other cases he has documented, such names were those of church employees working in roles that survivors believe allowed abuse to unfold, people who kept abusive priests in ministry.

“Until the report is released and we know the names, we have no way of knowing what part they might have played,” he said.

Lori declined to comment on calls for his resignation and said he does not regret pushing forward the legal case in Connecticut.

“I fought the good fight,” he told The Sun.

He also said he considers the archdiocese’s offering legal help to the anonymous group to be consistent with his support for building a culture of transparency.

Language on the archdiocese’s website describes its criteria for determining whether a priest has been “credibly accused” of abuse: “The Archdiocese of Baltimore is committed to openness and transparency. The Archdiocese will meet this commitment to the extent possible while also respecting the privacy and reputations of all individuals and applicable law.”

“I’d stand by that statement happily,” Lori told The Sun. “It does sum up our approach to all this. I think it’s the kind of approach that ought to be generally acceptable across the culture.”

Complete Article HERE!