Former Seminarians Ask Bishop to Open Priest Personnel Files
Former Seminarians Ask Bishop to Open Priest Personnel Files
* High School Seminary Target of 14 Civil Suits; 30-50 Abuse Allegations
* Missouri Diocese Ranks Third Nationwide in Missing Rogue Priests
* Jefferson City Mayor and State Representative Asked to Support Effort
ST. LOUIS -- Three men who attended a Missouri high school seminary in the 1970s and 1980s have asked the Roman Catholic Church to open priest personnel files and conduct an official investigation into the numerous sexual abuse allegations filed against the faculty and other clergy affiliated with the educational institution.
In a letter to alumni and friends of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Hannibal, Mo., (STAS) the students are asking graduates and former students and their parents, families, and friends to demand an accounting of the situation from Bishop John R. Gaydos, head of the Diocese of Jefferson City.
"We believe Bishop Gaydos and former Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe owe the alumni and former students an explanation about the sexual abuse of students at St. Thomas," said 1971 STAS alumnus Michael Wegs, who lives in Minneapolis, Minn. "Both Gaydos and McAuliffe -and their predecessor, Bishop Joseph M. Marling - shielded a number of career sexual predators at STAS, led by Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, the former rector and, now, disgraced leader of Palm Beach, Fla., and Knoxville, Tenn."
More then 50 percent of the priests working in the diocese are graduates of the high school. And they all are former students of O'Connell.
Wegs and the other STAS students are asking Jefferson City Mayor John Landwehr, an alumnus, and State Rep. Theresa Sander (R), Moberly, the sister and sister-in-law of STAS alumni, to support their effort in opening priest personnel records. They've also asked Mayor Landwehr and Rep. Sander to aggressively support current legislation to extend the state's civil statute of limitations for sexual assault of children and vulnerable adults.
Bishop Gaydos and leaders of the other Missouri Catholic diocese do not support the legislation, Wegs said.
"Bishop Gaydos is a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that drafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," Wegs said. "And, although, he would like to project the image of a concerned shepherd and pastor, in reality he has shielded and continues to shield ordained child molesters in
Annually, O'Connell oversaw the education of more than 100 high school, college, and graduate students affiliated with diocese throughout his 25-year tenure as STAS rector and vocation director, Wegs said. O'Connell continued his criminal conduct in Knoxville, he said.
"We believe that O'Connell not only abused students in his care, but also nurtured multiple generations of abusers, whom he helped ordain and then installed as faculty members at St. Thomas, " Wegs said. "In particular, a former student has filed a civil suit against Gary Pool (Class of 1973), a former priest who now lives in Jefferson City."
The fact that Gaydos has admitted publicly that he and former Bishop McAuliffe withheld information about secret settlements with STAS abuse victims at the time of O'Connell's promotion as bishop of Knoxville is "as alarming as it is sad," Wegs said.
"We understand from Jefferson City priests and STAS alumni that O'Connell allowed sexual predators to use his private residence to commit sex crimes in Knoxville," Wegs said. "According to one of our sources, multiple incidents involved a 1972 STAS alum and priest, who was O'Connell's protege."
According to Wegs, the parents of abuse victim drove from Missouri to Knoxville where they confronted O'Connell with the allegations.
"When O'Connell refused to act, they went to McAuliffe and then to Gaydos. All three bishops accused the parents of slander and threatened to counter-sue if they filed charges against O'Connell and 1972 graduate, who was the STAS dean of students at the time."
Wegs said parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends of STAS students need to know the truth about the environment at St. Thomas under O'Connell's leadership and that of some of his proteges. Parishioners and other Church donors should know who the predators are, where they live, and how much money the diocese has paid out in settlements."
"What happened at St. Thomas is a scandal with few parallels," Wegs added. "The fact so many priest preyed on their own pupils - the future of the Church - is a horrible concept for anyone to envision."
Background information and contact information
O'Connell resigned in March 2002 after acknowledging his abuse of Dixon. Since then, investigators believe that O'Connell has molested at minimum 30-50 former students at St. Thomas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo. At least 14 civil suits are pending against the former high school rector and teacher and former bishop of Knoxville, TN, and Palm Beach, FL.
A number of other civil suits are pending against current and former priests, who either are former members of vocation committee of the Diocese of Jefferson City which O'Connell directed or, are, in fact, former O'Connell students themselves, or former faculty members of St. Thomas.
The three/four victims who are mounting this outreach effort, however, are convinced dozens of their former classmates and the generations of students that followed are still trapped in secrecy, shame and self-blame.
"Today, we are reaching out each member of graduating class and each generation of boys who studied for the priesthood at St. Thomas," said Michael Wegs (Class of 1971), Minneapols, MN. "The crimes committed in the name of religion at our beloved school in Hannibal must be investigated," he said.
"Today, we're asking our parents, families, and friends to join us in demanding a full-scale investigation of every instance of criminal sexual assaults that happened at St. Thomas," Wegs added.
Wegs grew up in Moberly, Mo., where he attended St. Pius X Church and elementary school. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism in 1975.
St. Pius X has a notorious history of sexual abuse. The admitted pedophile priest John Whiteley was assigned to the parish; and a former pastor, Donald Wallace, was forceD to retire in 2002 when multiple allegations surfaced regarding his tenure in Moberly and elsewhere in the Mid-Missouri diocese.
Their initial letter will be sent to more than 50 former St. Thomas Seminary students and supporters who have strong ties to the school.. The high school seminary was closed in May 2002. O'Connell joined the faculty in 1963 and was rector of the seminary for 25 years until he became the first bishop of Knoxville..
The participants are members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP, the nation's largest support group for people molested by religious figures.)
SNAP, a support group, was founded in 1989 in Chicago. It now has more than 4,600 members in virtually every state, and monthly support group meetings in 54 cities.
Michael J. Wegs of St. Paul MN 612-823-4576 ([email protected])
David Clohessy of St. Louis, National Director (314) 566-9790 cell
Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Coordinator (314) 862-7688