On June 7, a newspaper with world-wide reach has exposed the scandal surrounding the Diocese of Knoxville and given international attention to issues Bishop Richard Stika and the diocese would rather be ignored.
The Catholic Herald front page article exposes the growing bishop/seminarian scandal that engulfs the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville. As more and more information becomes available questions arise about a possible looming Vatican investigation of Bishop Stika and his administration of the Diocese.
Adding to the controversy is a case of sexual exploitation of an adult by a priest. Father Michael Sweeney, current pastor of three parishes in East Tennessee: Blessed Sacrament in Harriman, St. Ann in Lansing, and St. Christopher in Jamestown is the priest in a recently settled lawsuit with the diocese. Sexual activity by Catholic priests is forbidden by their vows and by Church law. Father Sweeney admits having sex with a parishioner in 2000. As if that weren't enough, court documents from the Knox County Circuit Court (Docket #C-20-017320) reveal that Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, then bishop of Knoxville, and Bishop Richard F. Stika, current bishop of Knoxville, both interfered with a civil and a church investigation.
The Catholic Herald article by Christopher Alteiri, Executive Editor, walks through two cases to be brought to the Vatican. Reports by JD Flynn of the online Catholic publication, the Pillar, give an explosive number of complaints that have already been filed with the Vatican as of late April and early May 2021. See links to the Pillar articles on Rememberthesurvivors.com
. Go to the Pillar itself at www.pillarcatholic.com
Imporper handling of sex cases with priests, whether it be child sex abuse or sexual exploitation of adults by priests, is particularly heinous given the Catholic church's promise of transparency. Information dating back to 2004 shows Archbishop Kurtz failed to follow policy. A 2019 recorded conversation with Bishop Richard Stika, Father David Boettner and Father Douglas Owens further muddles details and shows a pattern of cover-up in the Celeste Arnone case.
As current archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky, Kurtz is the de facto church leader to investigate this. In the Catholic Herald article, it is quite clear that Kurtz's direct involvement as former bishop and a party to the recent court case in Knoxville would be a conflict of interest.
There is growing unrest among the faithful who know about this scandal. Most Catholics of East Tennessee, however, are unaware that something is very wrong.
"I am being contacted more and more by the Catholics of East Tennessee about the deafening silence of the media. When a Vatican investigation is looming about a huge scandal in their diocese, Catholics and the public in general are questioning whether the media is loyal to them and to the truth or to the Bishop of Knoxville. They are counting the days of silence on the local news," says Susan Vance of SNAP of Tennessee (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests).