Diocese suspends deacon from parish ministry, Knoxville Catholic teaching, amid allegation
The Diocese of Knoxville suspended a deacon Monday after learning of an allegation of inappropriate behavior with a minor.
Bishop Richard F. Stika suspended Deacon Joe Stackhouse from active ministry at Immaculate Conception parish and from part-time teaching duties at Knoxville Catholic High School, diocese spokesman Jim Wogan said Tuesday.
The allegation does not imply the conduct was sexual, Wogan said. Information received by diocese officials was turned over to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Wogan stressed the allegation does not involve a current or former student of KCHS. He also said it is not connected with a lawsuit Blount County residentMichael Boyd filed July 18 that alleged sexual abuse in the 1990s by clerical authorities.
"The Diocese of Knoxville maintains a policy of transparency when addressing these matters, with the hope that the media and the general public will respect the presumption of innocence in all cases until they are resolved," the statement read.
The diocese announcement came the same afternoon as a news conference held by a survivors support group outside the diocese's Northshore Drive offices. The Tennessee office of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) called the press conference in response to Boyd's lawsuit.
Attorneys for Boyd are suing the diocese in Knox County Circuit Court. The suit charges Boyd was an altar boy in the 1990s when he was repeatedly sexually abused by priest Xavier Mankel, then principal of Sacred Heart Cathedral School.
The suit also contends Bishop Anthony O'Connell, the diocese's first bishop, abused Boyd "at least twice" and the child was offered to visiting priests for "inappropriate sexual conduct" in a church sacristy.
Susan Vance, the Tennessee SNAP director, went with Boyd when he reported the abuse to Knoxville police in 2018.
"I've heard a lot in 17 years working with abuse survivors," Vance said. "But I was absolutely bowled over. ... I don't know if there is a word that can accurately describe what this man went through at the hands of both a bishop (O'Connell) and the second highest priest in the whole diocese (Mankel).
"They had all the power. And this is about abuse of power."
Before the news conference, SNAP questioned the swiftness of the diocese informing parishioners about Boyd's lawsuit. That charge was rebutted Tuesday in a statement from the diocese.
"We respect and admire Ms. Vance for her advocacy on behalf of abuse victims everywhere, but we find her continued accusations of some sort of cover-up at the Diocese of Knoxville to be unfounded," the statement began.
"Ms. Vance is wrong in her claim that the diocese did not immediately disclose the recent lawsuit and the suspension related to it," the statement said.
The diocese statement said officials learned of Boyd's lawsuit when it was filed July 18. The next day, Stika issued a letter to clergy, school leaders and staff about the suit. That same letter was sent to media outlets July 21.
Survivor tried to enlist Mankel's help
Sexual abuse survivor Michael Coode said Tuesday he repeatedly asked Mankel to help expose pedophile priests in East Tennessee.
Mankel, who Coode knew both as a Catholic and a family member, never answered his letters or responded to at least one request to meet. Coode, a longtime Nashville resident, spoke at the SNAP conference.
Coode said he was abused as a teenager by two priests in Nashville and Memphis. But he was in his 50s before he could talk about it. When the abuse happened, "it was the '50s and '60s. You wouldn't have been believed," he said.
He said as an adult he reached out to Mankel and other Catholic authorities to get their help. "I attempted in vain to get his help in exposing the many notorious priests of East Tennessee. He would never respond to me," he said.
Coode, 79, said he is sorry for "the abuse Michael Boyd suffered, and the troubling years he has endured because of that abuse. I am so proud of him to come forward. Believe me, it is not easy."