Bishop Stika issues pastoral letter after Pennsylvania abuse report

Jim Wogan News 18 Comments

Bishop Richard F. Stika issued a pastoral letter to priests, pastors, deacons, religious communities, and the parishioners of the Diocese of Knoxville on Thursday.  The letter addresses a report by the Pennsylvania attorney general on abuses that took place in that state and comes after two days of detailed reading of the report by the bishop.

Carta pastoral de obispo en español

U.S. Bishops Conference Statement in English y español from Aug. 16


August 16, 2018




My Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious,
and Lay Faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville,

It is with horror and disgust that I have been reading the Pennsylvania grand jury report that was released on Tuesday,Aug. 14.  There can be no excuse for the sinful crimes that were committed against children by ministers of the Church and there is no room for the negligence of those in leadership who failed to act to protect the innocent. I understand and share your anger and disappointment.

I am thankful for the victims who have had the courage to tell their stories and I realize that there are others for whom the memories are too painful to recall. I pray for their healing and peace, and I am committed to helping to bring healing and justice wherever possible.

I have supported publicly and I will advocate at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall General Assembly for a national review board made up of laity, to review any accusations of abuse or failure to respond to allegations by a bishop. In 2002, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which commits us to respond promptly and compassionately to victims, report the abuse of minors, remove offenders, and take ongoing action to prevent abuse.

The recent grand jury report highlights a gap in the 2002 charter. The charter does not provide a clear means of reporting and responding to abuse by bishops nor does it address how to handle bishops who fail to act to protect children. This gap is part of what has led to this moment we are in now.

I share your anger at those who had the responsibility to protect others and failed to do so. As your bishop, I pledge to continue to be transparent when dealing with accusations of abuse by clergy or others, to provide for the permanent removal of offenders from ministry, and to maintain safe environments for everyone.  The Diocese of Knoxville has taken rigorous and effective steps to ensure the safety and welfare of you and your family. 

All diocesan employees and volunteers, including those working at parishes and schools, are required to attend VIRTUS training, a nationally recognized program that focuses on the protection of young people. Our seminarians are subject to intense scrutiny, including background checks, thorough psychological testing, and a holistic approach in their formation as priests to guarantee that the individuals we ordain are well-balanced with a genuine calling to be pastoral.  Each year, our Safe Environment Program is reviewed by an independent auditor. The Diocese of Knoxville’s record for compliance and transparency is beyond reproach and all of our policies, letters, and reports can be viewed on our diocesan website,

The recent grand jury report and other reports of failures in leadership are disturbing and embarrassing.  Beginning with me, we need to recognize that we are experiencing the effects of sin, and hear the call to greater holiness in the Church.  St. Catherine of Siena, who in her day helped to reform the papacy, may be a saint for our times. Through her intercession, may God help us to purify and reform our Church that it may bear the Light of Christ to the world. I invite you individually and in groups to consider dedicating some time in the next weeks to pray for the purification of our Church and its leaders. “Heavenly Father, help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world, and to remain unshakably faithful to the Church in word, deed, and example. St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.”


Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Richard F. Stika
Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville

Comments 18

  1. Please start by removing any known homosexuals from the diocese TODAY. Then open any files you may have on abuse within the diocese TODAY to appropriate authorities. This diocese was run by a known pedophile abuser bishop, Anthony O’Connell, prior to you arrival, and I am highly suspicious there is plenty of information in those files that need to be brought to light. This may very well implicate you, Bishop Stika, but it is the least you can do. You wear red as a pledge that you will lay down your life for Christ and His church. If you must climb up onto the cross with Christ Himself, that is what should be done to make this right.

    1. When Bishop Stika arrived in Knoxville, he made it known that he reviewed all of the files of all of the priests of the diocese and found no record of abuse. Bishop Stika acted swiftly and effectively when then-Fr. William Casey was accused in 2010 and confessed to having abused Warren Tucker when Tucker was a boy in the mid-1970’s, immediately removing Casey’s faculties and petitioning the Vatican to have him laicized, which they did in 2012. Bishop Stika also sent a letter that was read in every parish in the diocese asking any other of Casey’s victims to come forward. So far, none have.

      There is no evidence that Bishop Stika is withholding any information on abuse committed by priests in the diocese. If you are aware of any abuse, report your information to the appropriate civil and diocesan authorities.

  2. Thank you Bishop Stika for addressing this issue. This Pennsylvania abuse has sickened me and brought back painful memories of our own abuse issues in the Knoxville Diocese. I worked in youth ministry for almost 20 years, many of them working with Fr. Casey, being my priest, boss, and considered him a trusted friend and also Bishop O’Connell. We would take our Deanery Reps to his house, leave them there to spend the night. We actually called it “Bunkin With The Bish” I still have quilt over that. When I went to mass on Wed. I fought back tears. I felt like a line in the REM song, “That’s me in the corner losing my religion” Thank you for letting me vent here and I really want to trust again

    1. Linda, your comment has me heartbroken. I have just watched the crisis unfold with an astonishment and horror for all those who have been abused and silenced. We are not directly addressing the issue as a church. Apologies have been issued but that is not going to solve the problem. We need to openly admit this is a homosexual predation problem that has been and is continued to be covered up.

      The bishops need to:
      1) have open, public acts of penance–not the people but THEM! (Although the people should surely join them). A full “sackcloth and ashes” type of public “mea culpa” or this will be a festering poison like the inquisition 500 years from now. Yes, indeed, 500 years in the future this will be discussed and we need to made SURE that we clean this mess up so thoroughly that the verdict of people in the future is that the Church did the right thing. Public penance is so important ALSO because Jesus said we are the light to the world. Christians and non-Christians who desperately need the Eucharist and need to hear the saving gospel of Christ will be disgusted and run from their only hope if the bishops do not do something dramatic and humbling. Reparation for this sin by INNOCENT bishops and priests will impress the world. For that would be like Christ. Time for a public crucifixion…..

      2) There is a homosexual subculture that is bullying the church. That MUST be gotten rid of and the bishops MUST declare this publicly. Until they do that, no one will trust that they even UNDERSTAND the problem much less will they be able to deal with it.

  3. Most Reverend Bishop and my fellow Catholics;
    I have followed this problem since it first came to light, as a parent and as a “cradle Catholic.” When challenged by someone about this, I reply that this is cancer, and it is metastatic . . .
    I have personally suffered from several serious forms of cancer, but I did not feel that I should kill myself. Instead, I had cancers cut out, and accepted therapies that left me injured and sick . . . but my body, with God’s graces, recovered. And with God’s graces, the Holy Catholic Church will survive this; although it may indeed be painful. Surgery is demanded and the sooner, the better.

  4. I rarely respond to postings but as a cradle Catholic I simply cannot let this pass. Any and all words are inadequate to express the horror of this report but yet they must be said. Bishop Stika is commended for his prompt and passionate letter to the diocese. I suggest that the letter be publicly read at all Masses this weekend through the diocese. This is just one report from one state. I can only wonder what would be revealed in similar reports from the other 49 and what actions were taken to move suspected and confirmed offenders to other states rather than just to another diocese within a state. I recognize that there are no easy and immediate overall solutions. Each individual complaint, past or present, must take priority within each diocese in a transparent manner using a quick action timeline for disposition without bureaucratic delays and with full public disclosure at the culmination of the investigation. None of us really know the backgrounds of our clergy, religious, and parish leaders. I suspect many will now be unfairly viewed with a jaundiced eye. Ultimately one’s faith is an individual matter with our Maker; irrespective of individuals, buildings, and institutions. However I fear the entire Church will be unfairly painted with a broad brush as it has already been in some editorials. Dennis Urban, St. Mary Parish, Oak Ridge

  5. Thank you. And will you, Your Eminence, also call out specifically the problem of homosexuality in the priesthood and deal with this? For it has been found by the John Jay report that 80% of the victims were males. This is a huge problem. Also, the laity-run review board would need to have all documents available for them. I know in the National Review board of the early 2000s was not successful because at every step they had to deal with red tape from bishops not wanting an investigation into their diocese. We need to make sure the bishops will not withhold vital documents for investigation. Respectfully in Christ.

  6. That is facing the horror head on and doing something to right the wrong and see that the abuse doesn’t continue. Thank you for addressing this openly.

  7. Thank you for your compassionate and prompt reply and your request for sincere heartfelt prayer. May God in His Divine Mercy heal us all. May Our Blessed Mother comfort those families who have suffered in so many ways. May we have peace.

  8. Priests should undergo intense VIRTUS training often. The lay people aren’t the ones abusing young people. When and if these priests confess these sins, they should immediately be reported. What would Christ do?

    1. I understand you may be speaking generally, for the entire country, but you should know that
      priests, deacons, seminarians, and deacon candidates all undergo VIRTUS training in the Diocese of Knoxville, as well as psychological evaluations prior to being ordained. This is true for the great majority, if not all, dioceses in the United States.

      Lay persons, including teachers, coaches, doctors, therapists and, especially, parents and step-parents, abuse children at far greater rates than do priests. So, sadly, yes, lay people are the ones abusing children, for the most part.

      So far, in her years as a diocese, there has been one diocesan priest accused of abuse. In 2010, then Fr. William Casey, who was retired, was accused of abusing Warren Tucker when Tucker was a child in Kingsport, TN in the 1970’s. Casey confessed to the crime and was immediately reported to the authorities, his faculties to minister as a priest were immediately removed, and he was laicized by the Vatican in 2012. Bishop Stika acted exactly as he should have, and for that he should be commended.

  9. Thank you, Bishop Stika.

    Satan is at work. My heart goes out to all the good priests who are suffering the effects of this and other sexual scandals in the Church. In addition to praying for the victims, we need to pray for all those who are hurt by this news, including our priests.

    Members of Endow, a women’s group active in the diocese, regularly pray this prayer:

    O Jesus, we pray for your faithful and fervent priests, your unfaithful and lukewarm priests, your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields, your tempted priests, your lonely and desolate priests, your young priests, your old priests, and the souls of your priests in purgatory.

    We pray for your priests in special need of spiritual, emotional, or physical healing, for priests who have left the Church, and for the souls of the priests who will die today.

    But above all, we recommend to you the priests dearest to us: the priests who baptized us, the priests who absolve us from our sins, the priests at whose Masses we assist and who give us your Body and Blood in Holy Communion, the priests who teach and instruct us; all the priests to whom we are indebted in any way.

    O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

  10. I do hope and pray that his Eminence, Cardinal Justin Rigali has resolved any sexual perversion
    issues in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia before coming to live in the Diocese of Knoxville.
    I pray for him and all bishops and priests–well aware that any and all clergy are now being perceived by many in society as candidates. All priests are now living under a dark cloud of
    suspicion. It brings me down on my knees, placing all of this in the hands of God, with the
    result that I live in the peace of Jesus Christ.

    Rev. Lowell Neuzil

  11. In 1956, in Rome City, Indiana, the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared to Sister Mary Ephrem under the title of Our Lady of America… her primary message was for America to return to purity and she specifically addressed not only lay people and the youth but also “My beloved sons” ( the priests). On one of her first visits Our Lady held a replica of the finished Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception , in Washington D.C., and requested that it be finished quickly and asked that the U.S. Bishops enthrone a statue of her likeness as Our Lady of America, the Immaculate Virgin. She promised if this were done that there would be miracles greater than at “Fatima and Lourdes combined.” The Bishops have yet to enthrone this statue even though the apparitions and the messages given to Sister, were approved by her spiritual director Archbishop Leibold who also had a medal struck and made two prayers given to Sister by Our Lady of America available to the public. These apparitions continued when Sister was moved to other assignments includjng Ohio until her death in 2000. Still, very few people are even aware of this devotion. In light of the horrific news in the last weeks, of continued abuse and secrecy in our seminaries and hierarchy, I urge everyone to demand that this statue be enthroned as Our Lady requested. The beautiful statue has been available since 2007, and is ready to be enthroned immediately. It is not the only thing that needs to happen but an important supernatural part of battling the “smoke of Satan” within the Church. For more info on this devotion please visit Our Lady of America also taught this short prayer to Sister. This prayer and her request for purity have never been more appropriate and needed! “
    By Thy Holy and Immaculate Conception, O Mary, deliver us from evil.”

  12. Let it be known that I support your efforts to condemn these atrocious acts of many despicable priests in the Philadelphia diocese. I appreciate reading your letter of condemnation and commend you for the outstanding leadership you have exhibited here in the Knoxville diocese to maintain a safe environment for all of our children going forward.
    Although I am personally offended by this scandal, I fully realize that the Church as in other large organizations , is composed of human beings , and some of them can make very bad choices. I will pray for the victims and priests that have fallen. Thank you for your letter.

  13. Bishop Stika,
    I urge you to take this suggestion to the upcoming Bishop’s Conference:
    TENNESSEE and ALL the other states should conduct an investigation into their states’ history of sexual abuse. All findings and disciplinary action should be publicly disclosed related to those who abused, those who covered it up and those who knew but looked the other way. Also there should be a policy in place to help the victims. While prayers may be helpful they don’t provide all that is needed for spiritual and psychological healing.
    “Cleaning house” will begin to restore credibility for the Church and hopefully avoid future revelations.

  14. Bishop,

    Please, consider this:

    I absolutely concur that there is a major loophole in the system set up after the last abuse scandal. However, I wonder if the system itself isn’t a problem. Not in the sense that it leads to abuse, but the fact that it a bueracratic system set up to deal with a decidely non-bueracratic problem.

    Several hundred years, the Church had a system in place to deal with the enemies wifhin (and no reasonable Catholic can say these a users are not enemies of the Church). That system brought fear and dread to the guilty they investigated. They had authority, power, and a reputation. And now they are effectively toothless.

    Bring back the Inquisition. Not Inquisition of legend, and not the torturous aspects of Inquisitors gone to far. But restart the REAL Inquisition. And give them the authority to do their job. Let their reputation precede them. Let an Inquisitorial in estimation make an IRS audit a cake walk.

    ALL allegations of sexual abuse are turned over to the Inquisition. And their investigation will be deep, thorough, and exhaustive. Put abusets on trial, and make their punishment public and high profile.

    Put the fear of God back into those who would think about abusing a child.

    Just my opinion.

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