Lawsuit pins down bishop in abuse case
Knoxville News Sentinel USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE
Bishop Richard Stika admitted that he told a room full of priests that the man who says he was raped by a seminarian was actually the one who was the predator, not the other way around. The admission was revealed in new court filings in a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville.
The man who filed the suit says the diocese worked to discredit him and that Stika’s comments to the priests back up that claim. The man also says in the suit that church leaders failed to properly investigate when he reported the abuse.
Stika made the comments at a May 2021 meeting at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, according to the lawsuit. The account came from someone who attended the meeting.
The following month, Stika again told a meeting of priests in Gatlinburg that the man groomed the seminarian for sexual abuse, the suit says.
In a filing made April 11, the diocese did not dispute Stika’s comments, saying he “accurately reflected his opinion and understanding of the underlying circumstances and events based upon the information that was available to him at the time.”
Stika declined, via a diocesan spokesperson, to say whether he still thinks – nearly two years later – that John Doe is a predator and someone who groomed the seminarian for abuse.
How we got here
The comments were included in an amended complaint filed earlier this year, when the alleged victim was forced to refile the suit under his legal name instead of using a pseudonym to protect his identity. The requirement was a result of the church convincing a judge to sign off on the order. Church watchers said this was meant to intimidate the victim and could persuade future victims from reporting their abuse.
In the original lawsuit, the man was identified as John Doe to protect his privacy. Knox News will continue to identify him as John Doe because he says he was the victim of sexual assault.
What the lawsuit alleges
The lawsuit asserts the diocese tried to discredit the man, a former church employee, and did not properly investigate his sexual abuse allegations. Knox News has independently confirmed Stika personally interfered with the investigation, removing an investigator who was asking too many questions.
The lawsuit says the rape occurred in 2019 when John Doe was a musician at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Knoxville, and when the seminarian worked as an assistant to Stika, a job that involved travel to different parishes.
John Doe contends he was subject to a pattern of grooming by the seminarian, who John Doe says raped him on Feb. 5, 2019.
The seminarian wrote a letter to John Doe on Feb. 14, 2019, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit includes a copy of the letter.
“And for what was wrong – I apologize with all my heart,” the letter reads.
Investigative visit approved by Rome
Separately, Knox News confirmed the diocese received an apostolic visit late last year. These investigative trips are typically ordered by church authorities to dig into the spiritual wellbeing of a diocese. The visitations by high-level church officials often are a signal that church leaders are concerned about a matter and gives them a chance to speak directly with people involved.
A separate sex abuse lawsuit against the Knoxville diocese is ongoing. A Sevier County woman, who filed under the pseudonym Jane Doe, says she was groped by a priest while he was counseling her following the death of the father of her infant.
Tyler Whetstone is a Knox News investigative reporter focused on accountability journalism. Email tyler. [email protected]. Twitter @tyler_ whetstone.