SNAP of Tennessee

Understanding Clergy Sexual Abuse and Sexual Exploitation of Adults by Clergy

Open your eyes 

Coming to terms, confronting the church

By Phillip O'Connor

© Of the Post-Dispatch

Monday, Nov. 15 2004

For nearly 50 years, St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., served as the first stop on the path to the priesthood for many young Catholics. But for much of that history, at least three priests on the faculty sexually abused their high school-age students.

The scandal first broke two years ago and brought down a popular church leader, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell. Now, several former seminarians are speaking out - some for the first time - providing more detail about the evil that befell them and the lengths to which the Jefferson City Diocese has gone to keep it secret.

Their accounts show that the abuse was more widespread than has been reported, that at least one other faculty member never publicly identified also abused students and that the abuse occurred more recently than the diocese has publicly disclosed.

What the victims want, they say, is the truth to be told.

During the 1990s, several former students of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary came to terms with the sexual abuse inflicted on them by men of the cloth.

For the victims, recognition of their abuse years before at the hands of faculty members Father Anthony J. O'Connell and Father Manus Daly proved a tortuous journey that dragged them through the depths of depression and to the verge of suicide.

Adding to the pain was the reaction of the church itself, an institution they loved, implicitly trusted and to which they had willingly dedicated their young lives.

Instead of the compassion and contrition they expected, the church turned its back on their plight, they say.

Meanwhile, O'Connell had become bishop of Knoxville, Tenn., Daly had replaced him as rector of St. Thomas, and another priest had begun to target the boys of St. Thomas.

Shy and scared, St. Thomas freshman David Bange felt better when Father James P. McNally took a special interest in him.

The year was 1986 and McNally, then 31, was a St. Thomas alumnus who'd joined the faculty.

In Father McNally, Bange said, he found a willing listener who laughed at the boy's stories and seemed to value his ideas and opinions.

As the boy's friendship with the priest grew, McNally also developed a relationship with the rest of the Banges. He often visited their farm home in Pike County and became a friend, confidant and confessor for the devout family.

In summer 1988, Paul and Linda Bange thought nothing of it when McNally offered to drive their 16-year-old son to Knoxville for O'Connell's installation as bishop and to share a hotel room with him. Other family members attended separately.  It would be in the hotel room in Knoxville where McNally would first sexually abuse David Bange, something he would do more than 100 times over the next eight years, Bange said in an interview.

To this day, the diocese never has disclosed the abuse publicly, and church officials declined to comment for these stories. McNally and his lawyer also declined to comment.

At St. Thomas, McNally and Bange were almost inseparable, with the student constantly visiting the priest's office to play on the computer or staying up late in McNally's room.

Bange's role as the teacher's pet angered fellow students to the point that one sent an anonymous letter to the bishop about what he considered Bange's favored treatment.

McNally charmed his way into the Bange family, stopping by for frequent visits on weekends and in the summer, spending the holidays together and staying overnight. McNally would room in the basement and abuse the boy, sometimes for hours, while his parents and siblings slept upstairs, David Bange said.

The priest took the boy on vacations to California, Canada and elsewhere and to visit O'Connell in Knoxville.

When Bange graduated St. Thomas and began college at Conception Seminary, the abuse continued, according to Bange. McNally arranged for Bange to have a summer job painting St. Thomas.

"It was just me and McNally in this great big, huge, empty building," Bange recalled. The priest would abuse him almost every night, he said.

Bange said over the years he tried again and again to get McNally to stop.

"I don't want you to do this anymore," he recalled telling McNally.

"OK, I'm sorry. I promise I won't do it. It will never happen again," he remembered the priest responding.

A week or two would pass, and then the kissing, masturbation, oral sex or some combination would resume, Bange said.

Looking back, Bange - now 32 - thinks about a comment he said McNally made that very first night in Knoxville.

"Some people don't like it when I rub them like this," he recalled McNally whispering.

Now he wonders. How many others were there?

Confronting an abuser

In 1993, Matt Cosby told a counselor at Kenrick Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury that he had been abused by O'Connell - the first time he had divulged that information to someone within the church.

The abuse had continued relentlessly almost since Cosby had first met O'Connell while a student at St. Thomas, Cosby said. Cosby was 15 when the abuse began and 23 when it ended in 1991, according to a deposition Cosby gave as part of a suit against O'Connell and others.

In addition to telling the counselor, Cosby said he also divulged the name of his abuser to at least two other priests on the faculty at Kenrick.

Cosby said that, to his knowledge, none of the Kenrick officials he told about the abuse ever reported O'Connell's actions to other church officials who could have sought the bishop's removal.

In Knoxville, O'Connell had become a presence in the hills and hollows of east Tennessee. The popular bishop often called on the governor and other lawmakers in support of causes such as the abolition of capital punishment and increased spending for the poor. He also continued his rise in the church. He served on various committees and boards such as Catholic Relief Services, which allowed 

him to travel the world.

With his counselor's encouragement, Cosby traveled to Knoxville to confront O'Connell during Martin Luther King Day weekend in January 1994.

He asked O'Connell why he'd done what he'd done and whether he'd done it to anyone else.  

O'Connell, through tears, denied the abuse. He said he'd only wanted to show that two men could lie in bed together naked and touch each other without it being a sexual situation, according to Cosby's deposition.

O'Connell said he did it to show Cosby he wasn't gay, that this type of behavior was normal. He apologized and asked for Cosby's forgiveness.

Cosby thought the explanation outlandish. To him, O'Connell seemed most concerned about the abuse being made public, according to Cosby's deposition.

Still, Cosby forgave O'Connell and they agreed to remain friends. He left Knoxville with the belief that he had been the only victim. O'Connell told him that he would help in whatever way he could.

Later that spring, depressed, suicidal, now open about his homosexuality, struggling with celibacy and other church teachings, Cosby decided to leave the seminary. He soon changed his mind and petitioned to be readmitted.

That summer, the seminary sent a letter that said it would be best if he not return.

"This past academic year was a time of significant self-discovery for you and I believe that it would be better for Kenrick and for you, pardon my saying what might be good for you, if you took the time to live your discoveries for a while away from the seminary," wrote William Hartenbach, the dean of formation.

Cosby felt abandoned. Rather than offer compassion and continued counseling, they'd simply told him to leave.

In late July, remembering O'Connell's previous offer to help, Cosby traveled with a friend to Knoxville, where he asked O'Connell for money to buy a car.

That August, O'Connell sent him $7,200 that Cosby used to buy a Honda Accord. O'Connell continued to send Cosby money, including a $3,500 check in December 1996 when Cosby told O'Connell he was having financial trouble, according to

Cosby's deposition.

Cosby knew what O'Connell had done to him was wrong. But he says he never looked at the payments as blackmail. He says he considered O'Connell his friend.

Telling a bishop

In 1994, another former student at St. Thomas Aquinas was living in Kansas City when a sex scandal involving a priest there prompted him to divulge his abuse by O'Connell. For these articles, the former student asked to be identified by

his initials, T.L., to help protect his family and his privacy.

The abuse had begun in fall 1968 during T.L.'s sophomore year. The following year, T.L. was kicked out of St. Thomas after he confided his sexual feelings about two younger students to O'Connell.

Despite that history, T.L. maintained his relationship with O'Connell. The bishop frequently sought him out for sex until the former student was well into his 30s, according to T.L.'s deposition in a suit he filed against O'Connell and the diocese. T.L. is identified in that suit only as "John Doe."

T.L. in 1994 approached Bishop Raymond J. Boland, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, after a Mass, according to the suit.

T.L. said he later met with Boland in his office and told Boland that he had been abused by O'Connell, that they continued to have a sexual relationship and that he wanted O'Connell to get help. T.L. also said he told Boland about persistent rumors that other priests continued to abuse seminarians at St. Thomas.

Boland told him that the dioceses "like to keep these things quiet" and encouraged him to handle his problem directly and discreetly with O'Connell, according to the suit.

In an interview with the Post-Dispatch in 2002, Boland said he recalled being approached after a Mass one day by a layman who asked about O'Connell's whereabouts. But the bishop denied he had any discussion about O'Connell and sexual abuse allegations with that person.

Boland declined to comment for these stories. "I'm not making any more statements on this," he said. "I think this has been handled, hasn't it? I've been . . . sued for the past two or three years on this sort of thing and I'm not going to reopen it."

T.L. said he reached O'Connell at his residence in Knoxville a day or so after the meeting in Boland's office. O'Connell told T.L. that he was seeking help and that such behavior was no longer occurring.

Later that year, O'Connell traveled to Kansas City, and T.L. made arrangements for the bishop, whom he still considered a close friend, to bless his new apartment.

The sexual relationship over, O'Connell now acted cold, distant and guarded, T.L. said. Toward the end of the visit, T.L. said, O'Connell asked him, "Are we OK? Is everything OK between us?"

T.L. told him it was and that he planned to do nothing further.

They stayed in contact for the next several years by phone and mail. O'Connell occasionally would send T.L. money.

In 1998, O'Connell began to more routinely send checks, typically about $400 a month, according to T.L's suit. The payments would continue for about four ears and total about $21,000, he said.

Making an apology

In 1995, depressed, exhausted, racked by panic attacks and on the brink of suicide, Chris Dixon went to an old friend then serving as the Jefferson City Diocese's vicar general. He divulged that he'd been abused by three priests during his youth and that he might leave the priesthood.

Ordained in 1990, Dixon had spent three years as an associate pastor and part-time teacher at a Jefferson City parish and school before Bishop Michael McAuliffe assigned him to the faculty at St. Thomas, his alma mater. He went willingly, with the belief that things had to have changed since his time as a student.

Dixon's 2 1/2 years on the faculty there were difficult. By now, O'Connell had become bishop of Knoxville. But another of Dixon's alleged abusers, Manus Daly, had replaced O'Connell as rector of St. Thomas.

Dixon said Daly treated him as though he were still a student rather than an equal. An angry Dixon challenged Daly whenever he could.

At a faculty meeting, Dixon said he complained to Daly about Father McNally having students in his room long into the night.

He knew the abuse he had suffered under similar circumstances and he asked Daly to put a stop to it. Dixon said Daly did nothing.

Soon, Dixon began to suffer panic attacks. He struggled to get out of bed. He fell into a deep depression.

Dixon said his friend who served as vicar general told him to leave the seminary as soon as possible.

Just days after Dixon left St. Thomas, O'Connell wrote him a letter.

"If I could relive those days again, I would surely have recommended better help for you than what I was able to give," O'Connell wrote. "To the extent, Chris, that through my own misguided help or failure to respond in a way that would be more helpful for you, I am profoundly sorry and I abjectly apologize."

That wasn't good enough for Dixon.  He wanted O'Connell to acknowledge the sexual abuse, get help and resign as


In April 1996, Dixon wrote a letter to O'Connell.

"It is vitally important for my continued healing, as well as necessary for the sake of justice, that I know you are receiving help and doing what is appropriate to come to terms with your own blindness in terms of what you did and to make restitution," Dixon wrote. "I do not desire to take the matter any further as long as I know that you are dealing with this forthrightly and judiciously. If that is not the case with you, and for that matter, Manus, I will consider taking legal action that will force you to come to terms with what happened."

He told O'Connell to write him and let him know he was getting help.

"I know you and Bishop McAuliffe are good friends and that he has confronted you about this, yet he has no jurisdiction over you and cannot hold you accountable very well, I suspect," Dixon wrote in his letter.

O'Connell wrote back and told Dixon that he was in therapy "and will continue to do so as I strive for greater self-knowledge and insight."

Telling Bishop McAuliffe

That May, another victim traveled to talk to Bishop McAuliffe. David Bange, then 24, told the bishop that he had been abused by Father McNally. The last incident had happened just two months before, he said.


"I guess it got to the point to where part of me was strong enough to just say, no, I don't care, this is going to stop," Bange said in a recent interview.

He doesn't remember McAuliffe's reaction, only the relief he felt at finally having told the bishop of his abuse.

McAuliffe, now 83 and living in a nursing home, could not be reached for comment.

Late the night Bange talked to McAuliffe, McNally was waiting for Bange when he returned to his parents' home.

"I thought we were going to keep this between us and we would work it out," Bange recalled McNally saying while they stood in his back yard.

Bange hasn't tlked to him since.

A secret agreement

Meanwhile, Dixon, who had been in counseling, decided to leave the priesthood because of the emotional trauma he had suffered. At a meeting with his therapist that McAuliffe attended, Dixon said he told the bishop he felt he should be paid by the church because of the abuse that had occurred.

In July 1996, McAuliffe wrote Dixon offering him $65,000 in severance "out of charity and concern for you and what has happened to you."

Dixon hired a lawyer.

Five months later, Dixon and the church reached a settlement. In return for $125,000, Dixon agreed not to pursue claims that O'Connell, Daly and another priest from his childhood had abused him. Both parties agreed to keep secret the allegations and the settlement.

"The diocese does not acknowledge the validity of any of Dixon's claims as to the cause of his alleged injuries," read the document signed by Bishop McAuliffe. "Although the diocese maintains that it has no legal liability whatsoever to Dixon on account of the alleged incidents of abuse or otherwise, the diocese desires to provide Dixon with financial assistance for his future and past treatment and counseling expense and to assist him in adjusting to life outside the priesthood, as well as to settle, compromise and adjust any

and all claims that Dixon has or claims to have against the diocese, its representatives, and its past and present bishops and priests."

On Jan. 3, 1997, Dixon wrote back to McAuliffe saying that while he would honor the terms of the settlement, he was upset by the wording.

"Nothing was admitted by any party, and no credence was given to the allegations I brought forth," Dixon wrote. "I would never stoop so low as to make accusations of this nature against these individuals if in fact they were not true. The Lord knows of my honesty. At any rate, we move on now."

Trouble in Palm Beach

McAuliffe moved on as well - resigning from his post at age 75, after 28 years of leading the Jefferson City diocese. In August 1997, Monsignor John R. Gaydos, vicar general of the St. Louis Archdiocese, was installed as bishop of the Jefferson City Diocese. He remains so today.

John Fischer, Dixon's childhood pastor and the third priest he'd accused of abuse, was no longer a priest. He had been removed in 1993 because of other child abuse allegations.

After Dixon's accusations, diocesan officials did not remove Daly from the priesthood or send him for sexual-offender treatment. Instead, they granted him a year's sabbatical for "spiritual renewal." With the Dixon settlement behind him, O'Connell continued to flourish in Knoxville.

Yet trouble was brewing elsewhere.

In Palm Beach, Fla., hints of the clergy-abuse scandal that would explode into the public consciousness four years later in Boston already were appearing.

There, Catholics in the 250,000-member diocese reeled from the news that year that their bishop was being removed over allegations he'd had inappropriate sexual conduct with altar boys years before.

Church leaders needed someone to guide the diocese through the troubled times.

In 1999, the Vatican provided them with a charismatic and popular bishop who had just finished work on a sexual misconduct policy for his own diocese in Tennessee. His name: Anthony J. O'Connell.

Silent no more

It was an early evening in March 2002. For weeks, Chris Dixon had watched victims parade forward in Boston to tell the media how they were abused as children by priests. In the last few days, he had followed the front-page coverage as the scandal hit the St. Louis Archdiocese.

Now the 40-year-old sat alone in his bedroom in the Soulard neighborhood of St. Louis. The memories flooded back of the sexual abuse he had suffered as a child growing up in the Jefferson City Diocese.

Dixon stared at the computer screen. In his mind, the debate raged: Break my years-long silence or continue to hide the dirty secrets of a powerful Catholic bishop?

Six years before he'd taken money from the Jefferson City Diocese and agreed never to tell anyone about his accusations that O'Connell, Daly and Fischer had abused him.

Now, that decision left him conflicted.

He worried that there might be other victims afraid to come forward. Would going public force the church to confront the issue of sexual abuse in an open and honest way?

He feared what might happen should he break the confidentiality agreement. Would the church come after him?

What would his family say? He'd never told them of his abuse.

His fingers moved toward the keyboard.

He would no longer protect his abusers.  He had found his voice.  He began to type.

"I am finally finding the courage to come out into the open about this and the ways my life has been affected," he wrote in an e-mail to the Post-Dispatch. "I would like to tell my story."

Reporter Phillip O'Connor

E-mail: [email protected]

Phone: 314-340-8321