Organized crime lawsuit filed against Catholic bishop and three diocese

November 14, 2002
By Rick Ross

During March of this year a former seminary student filed a lawsuit against a one-time bishop based upon the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). He also included three dioceses that the cleric worked within as defendants.

The plaintiff says he was molested during the 1980s while attending St. Thomas Aquinas in Hannibal, Missouri where named defendant and past West Palm Beach Bishop Anthony O' Connell, who was the rector.

But the suit also claims there was a ongoing conspiracy amongst American bishops to cover-up abuse claims through hush money and secrecy.

A RICO lawsuit can be filed when there is a claim regarding a "pattern" of organized crime. However, the act was originally meant to target mob and gang related crimes.

RICO has already been used twice against the Catholic Church in sexual abuse cases, but without success.

The plaintiff's attorney Patrick Noaker said, "What we have is evidence that the Catholic Church has aided in obstructing and hiding this information from law enforcement agencies."

Catholic officials declined to comment.

Bishop O'Connell resigned in March and went into seclusion after admitting sexual misconduct with another seminary student.

One more seminarian subsequently filed a lawsuit against O'Connell. Noaker says there are at least five more cases of sexual abuse that he is aware of involving the former Florida bishop.

Note: This article is largely based upon "Scandal Notebook: Federal suit alleges all U.S. bishops are part of cover-up" run in the St. Petersburg Times on March 23, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Rick Ross.

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