The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is one of four Roman Catholic dioceses accused of covering up sexual abuse by clergy in a lawsuit expected to be filed today in St. Louis.
Other defendants to be named in the lawsuit include the Vatican and the dioceses of Jefferson City; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Palm Beach, Fla., as well as Anthony J. O’Connell, the former bishop of Palm Beach, according to Jeffrey Anderson, the St. Paul, Minn., attorney filing the lawsuit.
Rebecca Summers, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said on Wednesday: “We have no knowledge of any type of lawsuit naming the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. We’re really at a loss.”
Officials with the Jefferson City and Knoxville dioceses said they also had no knowledge of the lawsuit. Officials at the Palm Beach diocese could not be reached for comment.
The civil lawsuit will claim that the dioceses broke federal racketeering and state laws because church officials knew of sexual abuse and conspired to conceal it to evade criminal prosecution, Anderson said.
Few other details of the lawsuit were available Wednesday. A news conference was scheduled for today in St. Louis by Anderson and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Anderson would not disclose why the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese is to be named in the lawsuit. It would be the first time the diocese has been sued in the wave of sexual abuse cases sweeping the church since January.
O’Connell, once the rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., resigned as bishop of Palm Beach last month after admitting he abused a former student while at the seminary.
The seminary is in the Jefferson City diocese, and O’Connell was bishop of Knoxville before being named to lead the Palm Beach diocese. O’Connell has been in seclusion since his March 8 resignation and could not be reached for comment.
Two other civil lawsuits were filed against O’Connell last month in connection with alleged past sexual abuse. The first, filed by an unnamed Minnesota man, claimed that O’Connell had sexually abused him while he attended the seminary between 1967 and 1971.
In the second lawsuit, an unnamed Missouri man accused O’Connell of sexual abuse at the seminary in the mid-1980s. That lawsuit, like the one expected to be filed today, cited the federal racketeering law — commonly known as RICO — to allege a widespread cover-up to avoid prosecution.
In addition to O’Connell, the lawsuit named the Diocese of Jefferson City and its bishop, John Gaydos; the Diocese of Knoxville and its bishop, Joseph Kurtz; and the Diocese of Palm Beach.