The Diocese of Jefferson City

A Case Study of Clergy Sexual Abuse

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Childproof 33: Death, an Avenging Angel, Unmasks Bishop John R. Gaydos as a Synthetic Christian

Page 33

Dear Bishop Gaydos:

As the bishop of the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Jefferson
City, you have ignored another
opportunity to help the victims
of predatory priests employed
by the Mid-Missouri branch of
your denomination:  the death
Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell
May 4 at an exotic monastery
near Charleston, S.C.

O’Connell, who for 26 years held management positions within the Diocese of Jefferson City, is among the most notorious of pedophile priests to be identified in the last 10 years of the child sex scandal that has consumed the Catholic Church in the United States.

O’Connell began his ecclesiastical career in 1963 as a faculty
member at St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary, Hannibal. 

He was promoted to rector seven years later with the death of the Rev. Richard L. Kaiser, and served in that capacity until 1988, when he was named bishop of Knoxville, Tenn.  In addition, O’Connell was director of vocations (1969-1988); a critical fundraiser for the local church; and a central figure of the diocese’s so-called Priest Personnel Board (1972-1988).

A lifetime of secrets destroyed Anthony J. O’Connell. He aged badly between
1989 (left) and 2002 (right). He expressed little regret for those he harmed. As
William F. Buckley noted in the National Review: “Bishop Anthony O’Connell of
Palm Beach said, at the outset of his meeting with the press, his staff, and his
fellow priests, that he’d had
a full day.His had proffered his resignation to
the Pope as bishop of Palm Beach. And now, he said,
I want to apologize as
sincerely and as abjectly as I possibly can.
In his meandering address, the
bishop said that God had given him
a lot of abilities and great giftsand that
he could
truthfully say I have used those gifts very fully.’  But one of those
gifts is not a gift in the arts of abjection. 
He apologized for the effect of
what he did . . . [to his victims], the effect of what he did in deceiving his
fellow priests and bishops and the papal nuncio. What he forgot to apologize
for was what he did.”

O’Connell’s power and influence provided cover for his predilection for young boys; and allowed him to shield others who shared his perversion. For example, the mother of Stephen Spalding, a Jefferson City youth enrolled at St. Thomas, reported O’Connell to Father Kaiser and the chancery office in 1969. But this information did not persuade Bishop Joseph M. Marling, or Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe, or you, Bishop Gaydos to halt O’Connell’s career.

O’Connell’s last promotion in 1998 as bishop of Palm Beach, Fla., collapsed in 2002 when he admitted publicly that he molested students at St. Thomas.  He retired to a life of obscure luxury at Mepkin Abbey, Monck’s Corner, S.C.

Mepkin had been the winter home of Henry and Clare Booth Luce.  O’Connell had free access to the residence:  he did not share the simple community life of the Cistercian (Trappist) monks who now own the property.  Rather, he enjoyed the pre-Revolutionary War ambience of the colonial plantation for ten years:  the acres of luxurious gardens that highlight the 3,300-acre property and attract thousands of visitors annually; and the social life of Charleston.

Portrait of Shame: Anthony J. O’Connell as he appeared in the
St. Thomas yearbook – a span of 20 years, 1964-1984.  Source:
The Anchor.

In the eight weeks since O’Connell died, you, Bishop Gaydos, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have chosen to remain silent about the passing of your predatory colleague.  You have kept O’Connell’s secrets locked away in a darkened closet, mouldering away,  rather than take advantage of the cleansing effect of daylight.  But truth has a price, and you have been unmasked by Death, an avenging angel, as a wicked Christian: an exponent of a synthetic theology.  You have been exposed red-faced as an angry, shameless, ruthless huckster, dedicated to a self-serving philosophy that has abetted this felonious conduct to the bitter end of life.

Nor will you be able to bury deeper what you have condoned, Bishop Gaydos.  Your actions have become something else:  a memory of who we were and a hope for what we can yet become. 

I was informed of O’Connell’s death at a May 7 conference sponsored by Come to the Stable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation at Lincoln University to mark the 10th anniversary of the closing of St. Thomas in 2002:  collateral damage related to O’Connell’s disgraceful conduct as a teacher and mentor of children and young people.

Two St. Thomas graduates at the Lincoln University event announced the news of O’Connell’s demise, saying the information began to “circulate through the alumni ranks” within hours of his death.  One alumnus wondered at the coincidence; another marveled that O’Connell’s death appeared to be “providential,” as if it were an acknowledgment of the suffering he inflicted on his victims.

From time to time, Anthony J. O’Connell opted for “candid”
self-portraiture in addition to formal sittings for the St. Thomas
yearbook.  Source:  The Anchor, 1966 (clockwise, top, left),
1969, 1972, and 1976.

A review chatroom conversation at a new STAS Alumni venue on Facebook indicates that the 134 members of Friends of St. Thomas Aquinas High School Seminary only know of O'Connell's death as rumor and gossip.  But the Rev. Bill Peckman knew of O’Connell’s death quite early and texted the Friends at 1:27 a.m., Saturday, May 5. 

The string of alumni comments highlight the lack of care and consideration for those who deserve better.  As one alumnus commented:

“I really don't how to feel.  He was very gracious and kind to me in the limited time I ever knew him — and his very name was legend to STAS during our day.  But then again, what he seems to have done really ultimately is played a big role in our beloved school closing
and some lives were ruined.”

As bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., and, later, as head
of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., Anthony J.
O’Connell continued to market St. Thomas Aquinas
Seminary and recruit students.  The diocese
O’Connell’s efforts St. Thomas alumni
publications, such as The Voice
“Fr. John Sims
Baker of St. Patrick Parish, McEwen, Tennessee,
brought up four visitors for a weekend in January:

Fr. Baker, freshman Josh . . . , Stephen . . . ,
Graham . . . , Dylan . . . , Michael . . . ,
[Gregory] Oligschlaeger [STAS faculty member].”

Source:  The Voice, Winter, 2002, p. 7.

No, the issue of O’Connell’s death for Gaydos is simple:

O’Connell was a man who tricked youngsters who had everything to live for.  He was man without scruples, without ethics.  He was a man with no reflection.  And you, Bishop Gaydos, are surprised that the misery he planted, and you nurtured, has survived?

The death of a predator often allows victimswho may still feel intimidated and helplessto summon the courage to report the crimes, expose the wrongdoing, and begin their recovery.  Knowing that a predator can longer cause further harm, victims often take comfort in the knowledge that their perpetrators can no longer hurt them or other children.

An aggressive campaign to acknowledge the death of a child predator like O’Connell reassures victims and the public that the USCCB is honoring its promise to be “open” about clergy sex crimes.  Gaydos made this pledge as an original member of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Joseph A. McNicholas (1923-1983), bishop of Springfield, Ill.
(1975-1983), visited his seminarians at St. Thomas on a
regular basis.  O’Connell recorded these encounters to
enhance his own profile and to energize his marketing
efforts for the Hannibal high school.  Source:  The Anchor,
1982, p. 66.

Instead, Bishop Gaydos, you continue to maintain the callous secrecy surrounding the death of O’Connell.  This silence is hurtful and irresponsible:  a continuation of what bishops do when a predator’s
crimes are exposed.

Likewise, your confederates in Knoxville, Palm Beach, and Charleston remain mum: Richard F. Stika, Gerald M. Barbarito, and Robert E. Guglielmone, respectively.

We are told that O’Connell was not active publicly as a priest in South Carolina.  Nonetheless, he still had access to children there and in these other dioceses.

By 1980, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell was recruiting students
St. Thomas from throughout the Midwest.  O’Connell recorded
his efforts in the St. Thomas yearbook.  In this document
six students from the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau
(top, left) are identified and the group includes one of two
known victims of O’Connell from that branch of the Missouri
denomination.  Two students affiliated with the Diocese of
Springfield, Ill., are from Quincy and Springfield.  Also
included is the image of student from the Diocese of Wichita,
Kan.  What is startling about this exhibit is that it includes a
photograph (bottom, left) of two publicly identified child
predators:  the Rev. Frank Westhoff (seated, center) and
the Rev. James P. McNally (seated, right), with the Rev.
Patrick J. Shortt.  At that time, McNally was a deacon at
Kenrick Seminary; Shortt was spiritual director (and a
roustabout like the Rev. Manus P. Daly, dean of students);
and Westhoff, is identified as a Pittsfield, Ill., resident,
which is doubtful based on the evidence in the Official
Catholic Directory.  Source: The Anchor, 1980, p. 38.

Catholic officials also claim that O’Connell was monitored after his admission of guilt.  But we know only too well the stories of pedophile priests who have assaulted children despite these assurances.  The case of the Rev. Carmine C. Sita/Gerald Howard in Boonville illustrates the strength of this security measure.

A change of location is no “cure” for a pedophile.  The fact of the matter is that a pedophile priest or bishopfreed up from daily dutiesis able to scheme and ingratiate himself with those unaware of his criminal past.  This potential for further harm is frightening.

The silence of the bishops of Jefferson City, Springfield-Cape Girardeau, St. Louis, Kansas City-St. Joseph, Knoxville, Tenn.,
and Springfield, Ill., is just another example of the critical failure
of the Catholic bishops to protect children and young people. 
These are not little mistakes of the past.   We will continue to discover more treacheries just as the authorities investigating the actions Joe Paterno and the administration of Pennsylvania State University are now ferretting out in the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case.

Pyramid of Sexual Abuse:  The unmistakable parallel between the child sexual
molestation scandal at Pennsylvania State University and the Diocese of Jefferson
City, Mo., is not difficult to grasp.  As with any pyramid scheme, we have the
perpetrators at the very tip:  Jerry Sandusky, assistant football coach at Penn State
(top, left) and Anthony J.
O’Connell (top, right), a prominent member of the Roman
Catholic hierarchy and former rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary.  The Penn
State prevaricators are (second row, left to right): Joe Paterno, head football coach;
Tim Curley, athletic director; and
Graham B. Spanier, the university president.  The
self-serving counterfeit clergymen of the Missouri diocese are (bottom row, left to
right):  Joseph M. Marling, Michael F. McAuliffe, John R. Gaydos, and their general
counsel, Louis C. DeFeo Jr.

The fact of the matter is that O’Connell recruited students for
St. Thomas in each of these Mid-West dioceses, as noted on
Page 34 of the 1980 edition of The Anchor:

“Although St. Thomas Seminary was begun primarily for the Diocese
of Jefferson City, in recent years seminarians from the dioceses of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Springfield, Ill., and Diocese of Wichita, Kan., have joined forces with those from Jefferson City in making up the family of St. Thomas. This page of the Anchor is dedicated to those other dioceses who have seen fit to allow us to educate their seminarians. Much thanks is due to the bishops of these dioceses as well as our own Bishop McAuliffe; it is through the generosity of
these that all this is possible.”

James Vann Johnston, bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, was O’Connell’s protégé in Knoxville: the first priest ordained by the predator.  Vann Johnston is aware that O’Connell victimized Springfield seminarians, who were sent to St. Thomas by Bernard Cardinal Law, when he was bishop there.  But Vann Johnston continues to praise O’Connell and acknowledge the disgraced clergyman as a mentor.

Bishop Robert W. Finn knows that young boys from St. Joseph, Mo., and other communities within the Kansas City diocese enrolled
as students at St. Thomas.  Finn, who is a St. Louis native, has been indicted by two grand juries for his failure to report pedophile priests.  Charged as a criminal accomplice, Finn is scheduled to stand trial in September.  His incentive
for silence is obvious.

A Legacy of Doubt
The death of O’Connell, inexplicably,
coincides with the release of data by
Come to the Stable/The Stephen
Spalding Foundation that cataloging
the molestation history of 14 O’Connell
victims: some are St. Thomas students;
some are not.  Further, we have received
information about seven other students,
who, according to parents, family members,
and/or loved ones, were molested by O’Connell.  We continue to document these cases and those that will develop as a result of
the rogue priest’s death.

Bishop Gaydos received this information May 7, which is included
in a 200-page report about the child sex abuse scandal in his diocese.  This
report is entitled Thy Child’s Face.

Silence as a Weapon
Bishop Gaydos, you have yet to respond to the Thy Child’s Face. 
We know that silence is a powerful weapon. 
An acknowledgment
of our effort would be beneficial:  silence is unacceptable.  But
we have learned to expect this level of behavior from a loan-sharking hierarchy comprising sociopaths dedicated to criminal versatility, radically deprived of empathy, knowingly selling a fraudulent version of justice, manipulating the truth with a sense
of grandiose self-worth.

And so we write this for you with the hope that this story will lives
on with us and those who come after us.  For when a story is told,
it is not forgotten.

Do not ask forgiveness for what you have done, for what you
have condoned.  Show mercy and admit the truth so that we
may be at peace.

Otherwise we are forced to continue with an aggressive approach, finding some solace in the literature of sorrow and suffering:

“Some day the load we're carrying with us
may help someone . . . .  We’re going to meet
a lot of lonely people in the next week and
the next month and the next year. And when
they ask us what we’re doing, you can say,
We’re remembering. That’s where we'll
win out in the long run . . . .”
Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451


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