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

By Amy McRary   Knoxville News Sentinel   Published 1:59 p.m. ET July 22, 2019 | Updated 4:24 p.m. ET July 22, 2019

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

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

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

The bishop and the priest

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

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

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

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

Music teacher suspended

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse allegations

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

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

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

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

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

A claimed cover-up

The suit contends that when Boyd confided to other adults, they told him no one would believe him and intimidated him to promise to stay quiet. The lawsuit says he was once told he and his brother would be expelled, his family would be removed from the church and they would become homeless. 

Once, the suit says, a visiting priest learned of the abuse and told O'Connell and Mankel "nothing would happen to Michael Boyd while he was here." But, the suit says, that priest was apparently transferred a few days later. 

The abuse stopped after Boyd grew strong enough to "fend off Father Mankel and other visiting priests."

However, the suit says "the damage was done, and he still kept quiet under threat of multiple adverse consequences."

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and for an unnamed amount of damages. It says that the childhood abuse caused Boyd to "experience severe psychological injuries, and emotional harm" that included loss of his faith, "mood swings, intimacy problems, emotional disconnection in relationships, anxiety, rage and the loss of enjoyment of life."

Statement from diocese

In an emailed statement to the press accompanying Stika's letter, diocese spokesman Jim Wogan said the diocese had no further comment "until new information, brought to light in the lawsuit, can be fully and independently investigated, and the legal process is completed." 


"We ask that respect be given to all parties named in the lawsuit and that those accused be afforded the presumption of innocence until the merits of the lawsuit can be determined," Wogan said in the statement.

Allegations of clerical abuse and cover-up have become an issue for the Catholic Church since the scandal exploded into the national consciousness 16 years ago in Boston.

More recently, dioceses in Tennessee and nationwide have issued lists of former priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Other names have been issued by survivor support groups, including Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. It set procedures for addressing allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors and came after The Boston Globe's investigation into priest abuse and the ensuing national crisis.