Archbishop Coakley says he did not know that a laicized priest was volunteering at one of his churches: Survivors’ group is incredulous

For immediate release, August 24, 2018

Statement by Melanie Sakoda, Volunteer Secretary of SNAP (925-708-6175, [email protected])

A man who was laicized in 2002 due to allegations of child sex abuse has been volunteering at a Oklahoma City church.

According to a statement posted on the archdiocesan website yesterday, Archbishop Paul S. Coakley informed Benjamin Zoeller that he was not allowed to volunteer or work at any parish or archdiocesan entity.

The former priest had been volunteering one day a week at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

We are grateful that Archbishop Coakley has now taken decisive action to correct this dangerous situation. However, while it is true that Mr. Zoeller was removed from the priesthood before the archbishop began his tenure in Oklahoma City, we find it very hard to believe that Archbishop Coakley was not aware that a laicized priest was volunteering at a local parish. We know, based on the recent information out of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, that cover ups are the rule, rather than the exception, in Catholic dioceses around the world.

If it is indeed true that Archbishop Coakley never examined the file of Mr. Zoeller before he was contacted by a Minnesota man earlier this month, we suggest that the archbishop now undertake a complete audit of his files. He should release the names, and current locations, of all the clergy in his diocese who have been accused of child sexual abuse.

There may be other “hidden predators,” and children, both Catholic and non-Catholic, may be at risk from these men. In addition, victims could be suffering alone and in silence, thinking that they were the only ones abused. Knowing that others also accused your perpetrator can be the first step on the road to healing.

Parents at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and all the other parishes where Mr. Zoeller worked should also be gently asking their children if they were harmed. Anyone who experienced, witnessed or suspected abuse in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City should report immediately to the law enforcement. Please. If you know something, say something. 

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, is the world's oldest and largest support group for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is

Contact  - Melanie Jula Sakoda (925-708-6175, [email protected]), Tim Lennon (415-312-5820, [email protected]), Lisa Kendzior (817-773-5907, [email protected]), Paul Petersen (972-569-0995,  [email protected]),  Kelly Kirk (918-779-7535, [email protected])

SNAP Network is a GuideStar Gold Participant