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Former Bishop Faces Another Suit

Apr 18, 2002 | UPI

A St. Paul, Minn., attorney filed a third suit Thursday claiming Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., sexually abused a child.

The unidentified plaintiff said the abuse started when he was a child and extended into adulthood.

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson said O'Connell paid his client thousands of dollars to keep quiet about their relationship beginning in 1994, when the man reported the relationship to Bishop Raymond Boland of Kansas City.

"This was payment for silence, a form of bribery," said St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who has filed hundreds of sex-abuse suits against clergy. "In exchange for the payments, he convinced this young man to keep his silence and not expose the abuse."

Anderson said the man, now 48, originally asked for $75,000 but O'Connell paid him in installments of $200 a month, sometimes as much as $2,000.

The suit names the Vatican, O'Connell and the dioceses of Knoxville, Palm Beach, Kansas City and Jefferson City, Mo. It claims wrongdoing under the RICO act, a racketeering law usually used in criminal actions against organized crime. By definition it names the church as a criminal enterprise for the alleged cover-ups.

"The evidentiary trail leads to Rome," Anderson said.

Three men now have suits against O'Connell and the church. A fourth, Chris Dixon, received a settlement of $125,000 from O'Connell and the church but recently went public with his accusations. O'Connell resigned as bishop following Dixon's allegations last month.

All of the alleged relationships began in the 1960s when O'Connell was posted at St. Thomas Aquinas seminary in Hannibal, Mo., and the plaintiffs were students.

The Catholic Church has been rocked by allegations in recent weeks that the hierarchy covered up sex-abuse allegations against several priests in Boston and elsewhere in the United States.

Eight American cardinals have been summoned to the Vatican to discuss the scandals at meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

The plaintiff in Thursday's suit, filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, said they met every two or three months after he left the seminary and stopped altogether when he went to college. He said the relationship resumed on an occasional basis after college.

In 1994, after hearing of several sex allegations against the priest, he said he was living in Kansas City and went to Boland one Sunday after mass. O'Connell was the bishop of Knoxville at the time.

"I said I want to keep it quiet. I don't want my name coming out," he told the Miami Herald. "And I don't necessarily want you to report it to anyone, but if you could speak to Bishop O'Connell about it and he said, well, that's the way we'd like to handle it."

The plaintiff has worked in the computer industries, but has had financial problems for several years. He is currently working in Massachusetts.

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