20 February 2003
The Right Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz
Bishop of Knoxville
Dear Bishop Kurtz:
We learned in December that you and Father Michael Woods were asked to remove of the name of the disgraced former bishop of Knoxville and Palm Beach from one of your parish buildings. We applaud your effort as a lesson to the Catholic faithful that an occasion of sin demands that sinner restore the victim to his/her former state, accept punishment for his/her actions, and make full restitution the victim before forgiveness can be granted.
By removing the name of Anthony J. O’Connell from St. Mary’s family life center, the Church in Knoxville has initiated this process, which we hope the hierarchy will applaud and support. The message that you are sending to Catholics and the public will uphold the Church’s commitment to the Seamless Garment policy of American Church that was established by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.
Your action this Sunday also will be significant for the survivors of O’Connell’s career pedophile crime spree over the last 35 years. We are two men who suffered at the hands of this criminal when we were students at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary (STAS) in Hannibal, Missouri.
We would like you inform your parishioners the fact that we represent a growing number of STAS alumni who are coming forward to condemn a man that we once loved and cherished. He was father figure, mentor, confidante, and spiritual guide who betrayed the trust of so many children who came into his sphere of influence.
The first of our brotherhood to step forward was Christopher Dixon. Chris’ disclosure of years of sexual abuse by the man we knew affectionately as O’C revealed the true character of this sexual predator.
To date, we have confirmed that O’C molested more than 30 STAS alumni and suspect that number will continue to grow. Our records have confirmed that the earliest molestation report: 1968, at the start of his tenure at St. Thomas. The student was our classmate: Stephen Spaulding. He died an early death, suffering in pain from the crimes committed against him. A timeline of O’C’s criminal history can be downloaded from www.ralawfirm.com.
O’Connell’s pedophile activities also were reported to Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe in the 80’s and early 90’s by a Diocesan youth worker named Donna Dixon of Rolla. As reported last spring in the Boston Globe by Steve Kurkkjian, O’Connell apparently liked to work Teens Encounter Christ retreats back then. McAuliffe fired Ms. Dixon during a meeting with him to bring this information to his attention.
But O’C’s crime wave did not stop with the students. He hired faculty who we now know were pedophiles. As the school began ordaining alumni for the Diocese of Jefferson, he brought alums that he had abused when they were his students. To our sorrow, we now know that some of our friends and classmates had been nurtured to adulthood as pedophiles, ordained, and allowed to take advantage of every new crop boys who came their way.
There is one other significant piece of information about your predecessor that you should know. We have credible information that he divided the student body with the former dean of men, Father Manus Daly. Each had his favorite boys, who were treated to meals at expensive restaurants, private weekend retreats at the Lake of the Ozarks resort in southern Missouri, and travel abroad. O’C, in particular, took his most favored students to Ireland with him when he returned for annual visits.
O’Connell did not temper his ways, even after he came to Knoxville. We have confirmed that he transported minors across state lines to Tennessee for the purpose of sexual abuse. Two RICCO lawsuits were filed against him in 2001 as a result of his criminal actions.
So there it is. An alum asked us recently, “Would we be a better men today if we had never known O'C?” The answer, of course, is yes. We would have loved better, trusted more, and moved on with our lives. Yes, we would have been better men if we had never met Anthony J. O’Connell.
As Lent approaches, we would encourage you to continue to stand firmly against pedophilia in the ranks of the clergy. You and the Tennessee Catholic Conference can begin a campaign to eliminate the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse so that other children will have to suffer.
During the Eastertide you can show your commitment to openness and you sensitivity toward victims by inviting them to come and speak before parishes in dioceses, so that your flock might better learn about childhood sexual abuse and its impact later in life. We also ask you turn over all allegations to the civil authorities. We ask you to remove all offenders.
Crimes against children are unspeakable and horrific. As believers and as a loyal Americana, their protection must be paramount in today’s society.
Michael Wegs Timothy LinkMinneapolis, MN Boston, MA