Bust of abuser-bishop removed from chancery

Kansas City, Mo. — The Knoxville diocese has removed from a historical display a life-size bronze bust of the founding bishop of its diocese, who admitted to sexually abusing teenage boys in 2002, but photos of the bishop remain in the display and at the local Catholic high school.

Questions about the bust and photo surfaced yesterday when the former chancellor of the Knoxville diocese was named the new bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.

James Johnston, currently bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, was chancellor in Knoxville in 2004 when advocates for victims of childhood sexual abuse urged the Knoxville diocese to remove a life-size bronze bust of Bishop Anthony O’Connell from a prominent place in the Knoxville chancery and to remove a photo portrait of the former bishop from Knoxville Catholic High School.

The displays weren’t removed, and when asked about the public display of image of the admitted abuser of minors, Johnston told NCR that he found nothing inappropriate with the historical displays.

O’Connell became the first bishop of the new diocese Knoxville in 1988. He was later transferred to Palm Beach, Fla. In 2002, he revealed that he had molested teen-aged seminarians decades before when he served as rector of Hannibal, Mo., high school seminary.

The bust has been removed from the chancery, NCR was told Sept. 15, but photographs remain.

“I can tell you the bust is not on display at the chancery. I have no information when it was removed or where it is currently located,” said Jim Wogan, director of communications for Knoxville since July 2014.

"The bust of Bishop O'Connell was removed from display sometime prior to 2009. This was not a recent decision," Wogan wrote in a follow-up email to NCR.*

Wogan said there is still a photo of O’Connell in the chancery’s historical display with the decree establishing the diocese. The display case is located near the back of the chancery and O’Connell’s photo is approximately four by seven inches. It is with a plaque that includes the diocesan crest and commemorates the canonical establishment of the Diocese of Knoxville.

The O’Connell photo is displayed with other photos and documents, including photos of Bishop Joseph Kurtz and Bishop Richard Stika, who is the current bishop. Prior to 1988 Knoxville was a part of the Nashville diocese.  

A photo of O’Connell remains at Knoxville Catholic High School. Wogan said it is “one of nine photos of the bishops of our diocese since the school was established in 1917.”

Wogan said he wanted to emphasize the photos are part of the historical context of who led the diocese of Knoxville.

*This story has been updated to include a follow-up statement from Jim Wogan.

[Elizabeth A. Elliott, is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Contact her at eelliott@ncronline.org.]

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