On March 8, 2007, it will be five years since the resignation of Anthony J. O’Connell as bishop of West Palm Beach, Florida, for sexual abuse of teenage boys. As you know, O’Connell, first bishop of the Knoxville diocese, was here from 1988 until 1998.
Following the resignation of O’Connell, we were admonished to forgive and forget, while at the same time we have been deliberately denied the full truth about the severity and extent of O’Connell’s abuse. This lack of transparency by the Knoxville diocese has hurt victims of clergy abuse. It is apparent that silence about O’Connell’s abuse has continued the cover-up of widespread clergy sexual abuse throughout the Knoxville diocese over the years.
One of the tangible symptoms of this cover-up in many churches and schools is the display of the portrait of Anthony J. O’Connell. Bishop Joseph Kurtz says O’Connell is part of our history, and his portraits can remain. Many victims say this is continued abuse.
When victims see O’Connell being honored, it is as if their abuser is being honored. When victims see O’Connell’s face, they see the face of their abuser. When victims see O’Connell’s portrait in public places, they know that the church has chosen cover-up over transparency.
And what about the children and teens? Continued display of O’Connell’s portrait desensitizes the faithful and silences the children who might otherwise seek help if they are abused. It says loud and clear that the diocese of Knoxville sides with abusive clergy instead of the victims of abuse.
On behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse, we are again requesting that all images of O’Connell be removed from public places. If a portrait of O’Connell still has a place of honor at St. Mary School, we request its removal. Or if you choose to adhere to the insensitive stand that O’Connell as part of history should have his picture on your wall, then tell the WHOLE truth about history. Change the inscription on the plaque that identifies him as “Anthony J. O’Connell, 1st bishop of Knoxville” and make it read “Anthony J. O’Connell, 1st bishop of Knoxville and Admitted Molester of Teenage Boys.”
SNAP of Tennessee (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)