Seminarian booted in Ind. before rape case
Knoxville News Sentinel USA TODAY NETWORK – TENNESSEE https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/local/2023/05/11/knoxville-seminarian-accused-of-rape-was-booted-from-indiana-seminary/70196612007/
Bishop Richard Stika was told a Diocese of Knoxville seminarian had been kicked out of an Indiana seminary over sexual harassment complaints weeks before the diocese began investigating whether the seminarian had raped a church employee here, Knox News has learned. The dismissal was explained in a letter from the president-rector of Saint Meinrad Seminary to Stika dated March 1, 2021. Nine days later, a Knoxville diocese sexual assault review board member wrote to the victims assistance coordinator about the rape allegation, and the review board began investigating at the end of the month.
Two weeks later, Stika ordered the firing of an independent investigator hired by the review board to dig into the allegation.
And in April 2021, Stika committed the diocese to pay nearly $50,000 for tuition and living expenses for the dismissed seminarian to attend Saint Louis University beginning that fall.
‘Uncomfortable’ behavior detailed
The Very Rev. Denis Robinson, the president-rector of St. Meinard Seminary, included documentation with his letter to Stika detailing the complaints against the dismissed Knoxville seminarian. The letter and supporting documents total 10 pages.
One student said the Knoxville seminarian, who is Polish, invited him to his dorm room, told him his American accent was “sexy,” and tried to hold his hand, prompting the student to immediately leave. Another student
said he was undressing to go to bed when he noticed the Knoxville seminarian gazing at him from his room across a courtyard in the dormitory.
A third student described the Knoxville seminarian’s aggressive attempts to touch him during a visit to the Knoxville diocese, and his suggestion that the two sleep in the same bed. The student also said the seminarian asked him about his penis in messages sent through Snapchat.
A few weeks after the two returned to St. Meinard, the Knoxville seminarian apologized to the student, saying “he had never done anything like that before and asked me not to tell anyone.”
Review board gets involved
The diocese was told that the seminarian had been accused of rape by March 2021 at the latest, when its internal sexual abuse review board — which reviews allegations of misconduct — agreed to look into the former church employee’s complaint, according to multiple emails between former board members obtained by Knox News.
The board met in late March and decided the rape allegations should be investigated. Shortly after an independent investigator began looking into the matter, Stika removed him from the investigation.
A former review board member — who Knox News is not naming to protect the person from retaliation — said Stika fired the investigator because he was asking too many questions.
Former seminarian’s education paid for
A month after receiving the letter detailing the former seminarian’s behavior, Stika wrote the diocese would pay $48,258 for the former seminarian’s 2021-22 school year at Saint Louis University, according to a copy of the letter viewed by Knox News. The school offers courses in theology but is not a seminary.
The letter, dated April 12, 2021, is on Office of Bishop letterhead and signed by Stika. It is addressed to the university’s international services office. In it, Stika, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Saint Louis University, said the student “will not be in any way a burden to the United States of America or the State of Tennessee.”
It is not unusual for the diocese to pay for the education of seminarians, though this case stands out because the student is no longer a seminarian and the rape allegation brought against him. A diocesan spokesperson declined to answer questions about the former seminarian’s dismissal from the seminary and his schooling at Saint Louis University, citing the ongoing lawsuit stemming from the rape accusation.
Stika defended dismissal as ‘boundary issue’
A diocesan spokesperson declined to comment about the St. Meinard dismissal, as well, citing the pending litigation. Stika, however, has spoken about it before.
In a conversation with a group of priests in 2021, the audio of which was obtained by Knox News, Stika explained the former seminarian was dismissed from the seminary because he had “boundary issues” and that one of the men had simply been “uncomfortable” with the seminarian.
“He just wanted to be a priest and he came to this country … to be a priest and his name has been defamed by priests in this diocese, by seminarians, by Susan Vance, who wins the war again,” Stika said.
Stika mentioned Vance, the leader of the Tennessee chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, because the president-rector at Saint Meinard referred in his March 2021 letter to Stika an online dossier Vance posted online detailing the sexual assault accusations against the former seminarian.
Stika also told the priests he had, “in writing,” promises from the presidentrector saying the seminarian could return in two years. “In documents I have from the rector, he would be readmitted in two years,” Stika said. “Not that he would be open to having him fill out the paperwork. He will be readmitted in two years.”
The letter, however, does not say that.
“… I do believe that the issues raised by the seminarians need to be addressed and corrected before (the seminarian) can re-enter seminary formation,” Robinson wrote. “We would certainly be willing to review his case in two years if you see that as the proper move.”
In other comments during the same recorded meeting, the bishop explained that the seminarian had been living with him and former Cardinal Justin Rigali to help take care of the elder Rigali and “drive us.”
Lawsuit underpins it all
Nearly two weeks after Stika sent the letter to Saint Louis University, a Catholic news organization, The Pillar, began publishing reports about the seminarian and how the sexual assault allegations against him were handled. Those reports established the basis of a lawsuit filed by the former church employee against the diocese and Stika in February 2022.
Knox News has identified the former church employee as John Doe, the pseudonym he originally used in the lawsuit to protect his identity. He has since been forced to refile his lawsuit under his legal name after the diocese went to court to demand it.
In a recent court filing, Stika admitted that he told a room full of priests that the man who says he was raped by the former seminarian was actually the predator, not the other way around. He also admitted to telling a separate group of priests that the man groomed the seminarian for sexual abuse.
Tyler Whetstone is a Knox News investigative reporter focused on accountability journalism. Email tyler.whetstone@ knoxnews.com