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Some at St. Mary's seek removal of Bishop O'Connell's name

Week of 12/13/2002


by Donna Smith

Oak Ridger staff


The recent resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop of Boston was welcomed by some local Catholics and has re-energized a move to have former Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell's name removed from the Family Life Center at St. Mary's Church.


Members of the church, contacted by The Oak Ridger, say the name of the Bishop O'Connell Family Life Center sends a message to the parish and public -- but they differ on the message.


Is the message one of indifference to those victims of abuse by the clergy and honoring of the molester?


Or, is the message one of forgiveness?


St. Mary's members said the scandals, including Law's resignation last Friday, have affected them but that it hasn't altered their faith.


Cande Seay likened the news to when anyone respects and admires a leader and finds he or she has done something wrong or failed in some way.


"Of course it's affected us ...," she said. "It breaks our hearts."


"It hasn't changed me, my beliefs and my faith," Seay said. "It has made me sad and it has made me mad."


The 32-year member of St. Mary's said she was glad to see Law resign late last week. The Catholic Church needs to actively work toward helping and healing both the victims and the abusers, she said, and Law wasn't the right one to lead in this effort.


"I'm relieved he resigned," Seay said.


"It has not affected my faith personally," member Mary Monroe-Ellis said of the news of abuse and cover-ups by priests. She said she realizes relatively few priests were involved, although even one is unacceptable.


Locally, Monroe-Ellis has become the unofficial spokeswoman for those seeking to have O'Connell's name removed from the Family Life Center. O'Connell, who served as first bishop of East Tennessee's first Catholic diocese, resigned from his diocese in Florida earlier this year after

admitting he sexually abused a teen-ager years ago. His admission and resignation came after the victim, now an adult, filed a lawsuit against O'Connell.


The issue of removing O'Connell's name from the center was brought up at parish forums beginning last summer, Monroe-Ellis said. She said those who wanted the name removed were told that the issue would be looked into.


"There's been plenty of time for thought and action," Monroe-Ellis said.

Another parish member contacted Knoxville television stations last week, after Law's resignation was announced, to tell of the frustration. When reporters wished to talk to someone on camera, Monroe-Ellis agreed to speak on behalf of the informal group of members who want the sign removed. She said since the news reports appeared, many more members have indicated to her and others that they'd like the sign removed.


Monroe-Ellis admitted that O'Connell did some great things while serving as bishop of the East Tennessee Diocese, a sentiment expressed by others contacted by The Oak Ridger. But she said it's wrong to publicly honor someone who has been an abuser, especially when children are involved.


But Adria Herrmann, chairwoman of the church's Parish Council, disagrees.


"I would like to keep it on there," she said. "The Catholic faith is based on forgiveness." What we're telling the children is we can forgive."


"He made a mistake 30 years ago," she said, asking, "Who hasn't made a mistake in their lifetime? ...


"He did wonderful things here," she said.


"Yes, they (the abusers) need to be forgiven, but what about the victims?" Monroe-Ellis asked. She said officials in the Catholic Church have basically done nothing to help the victims, instead choosing to "protect themselves" rather than strive for justice.


Herrmann said the issue of removing the name has been discussed and she feels the parish is evenly divided on the issue. The decision would ultimately be made by Father Michael Woods, St. Mary's spiritual leader, she said.


The TV news stations reported that Woods told them he would make a decision on the matter sometime this spring, probably around the Lenten season. However, The Oak Ridger could not confirm this. The priest did not return telephone calls made to the church office this week.


Donna Smith can be contacted at (865) 220-5502 or dsmith2@oakridger.com.