Lawsuit alleging abuse filed against diocese

From staff reports

Bishop Richard F. Stika issued a letter to clergy and staff of the Diocese of Knoxville on July 19, making them aware of a lawsuit filed by attorneys for Michael Boyd, a resident of Blount County, claiming that Mr. Boyd was a victim of sexual abuse inside the diocese while a student and an altar boy in the early to mid-1990s.

The suit was filed July 18 in Knox County Circuit Court.

The diocese is the only defendant of the lawsuit in which Mr. Boyd alleges he was a victim of physical advances by Monsignor Xavier Mankel, former vicar general of the diocese, and a priest and pastor for 56 years; Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell, bishop of the diocese from 1988-1998; and others.

Both Monsignor Mankel and Bishop O’Connell are deceased. Monsignor Mankel died in 2017. Bishop O’Connell died in 2012.

“When first presented with the allegations almost a year ago, the Diocese of Knoxville immediately contacted state authorities and encouraged Mr. Boyd to file a report with law enforcement,” Bishop Stika wrote in his letter to clergy and staff.

Diocesan spokesperson Jim Wogan said the initial allegations presented by Mr. Boyd were rigorously examined by “an independent and highly qualified criminal defense attorney who is not connected to the Diocese of Knoxville or the Catholic Church.”

The investigator’s report said there was no finding of credible evidence to support Mr. Boyd’s initial allegations, according to Mr. Wogan.

On July 18, when Mr. Boyd filed his lawsuit, the diocese was made aware of additional information, including the names of current and former employees of the diocese, not part of the original allegations.

As a result, and with respect to a presumption of his innocence, the diocese said it was obligated to suspend Mr. William Lovelace from his position as a music teacher at two schools until allegations against him, and others mentioned in the lawsuit, can be thoroughly and independently investigated.

The two other people named in the lawsuit, former teacher and principal Pam Bernards, and former youth minister Patrick Donovan, are no longer working here.

“The Diocese of Knoxville remains committed to a safe environment in our parishes and our schools,” Bishop Stika said in his letter. “We will continue to abide by the rigorous standards for reporting and protection set forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.”

The diocese maintains resources and contact information on its website (dioknox.org) for anyone who suspects they have been a victim of sexual abuse.

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