Letter Requesting Removal of Pictures of O'Connell
October 9, 2003
Bishop Joseph Kurtz
850 Northshore Drive Southwest
Knoxville, TN 37919
Dear Bishop Kurtz:
In March 2002, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, first bishop of Knoxville, resigned as bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, after admitting molesting young men. He was removed from ministry because of these abuse allegations and is now in litigation for his admitted molestation. Yet O'Connell's photo still hangs in prominent places in buildings throughout your diocese. One such place is Knoxville Catholic High School where a review of the Theology department program begins today. While this religious education program encompasses many things, we feel that the support of victims should definitely be one of them.
What signal does displaying photos of an admitted pedophile send to the faithful? We in SNAP believe this is terribly insensitive. It hurts those O'Connell has already severely hurt. Even worse, it sends a chilling message to others who may be suffering sexual abuse right now.
We respectfully ask you to remove these images of O'Connell. Keeping them in place rubs salt into the wounds of innocent people he has traumatized. Displaying them makes it tougher for other victims to speak up. Taking down his portrait from any diocesan building is the very least you can do.
Knoxville Catholic High School is, no doubt, an excellent school. However, with this one simple, humane step, you can make it an even better school. You can make it a safer place for abuse victims to come forward, expose their perpetrators and begin to heal.
I have spoken with several survivors who were molested by O'Connell. These are good, caring men. Nothing can magically erase the years of pain they have endured, but you can avoid compounding their pain.
We know that Bishop O'Connell was in Knoxville for ten years. We know he is thought to have done a great deal of good, but we hope that you will understand how keeping his portrait on prominent display pains those he so deeply betrayed and silences others who may have been abused by him in the Knoxville diocese.
Bishop, please see our requests in the proper Biblical context. We are asking you to side with those whom Jesus tells us to side with - the wounded, the hurting, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the vulnerable. By taking the step of seeing that O'Connell's images are removed, you can help show molestation victims and Catholics of the diocese of Knoxville that you and your staff take priest sexual abuse seriously and want others who have been deeply scarred to feel comfortable coming forward. By taking this step, you can help prevent future abuse.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
National Director, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street, St. Louis, MO 63143
cc: Dr. Aurelia Montgomery, Principal, Knoxville Catholic High School
Sherry Morgan, Superintendent of Catholic Schools
Members of the KCHS Theology Evaluation Team
Amy Roberts, chair of the KCHS Theology Department