Former Knoxville priest who confessed to molestation gets probation

Knoxville News Sentinel/July 27, 2010

A former Knoxville priest and confessed child molester received two years probation Wednesday in McDowell County, N.C. But the victim says the fight is not over.

Father Bill Casey, 76, pleaded guilty Wednesday to crimes against nature. In addition to supervised probation, he must participate in a sex-offender program and pay a $500 fine and other court costs, Rutherford and McDowell County District Attorney Bradley Greenway said Wednesday.

Last September, Warren Tucker of Jeffersonville, Ind., gave the McDowell County Sheriff's Department a six-page statement, claiming Casey sexually abused him during a five-year period more than 30 years ago.

Tucker said Wednesday night that Casey abused him more than 50 times in the mid- to late 1970s - mostly in the Tennessee counties of Sullivan and Greene but also in Scott and Lee counties in Virginia, starting when Tucker was about 10 years old.

Tucker, now in his mid-40s, said Casey's guilty plea was "bittersweet."

"It doesn't sit well that somebody can confess to sexual abuse and walk free among us," Tucker said. "We're still hopeful that justice will still be served."

Tucker said he and officials in the other counties are still pursuing criminal charges. He said he is confident that Casey will ultimately be charged and convicted in other counties, especially in Sullivan County and Scott County, Va., which will result in Casey serving jail time.

"The detectives are serious about this," he said. "We feel confident that full justice will be done."

Jeff Koenig of Louisville, Ky., said he also was a victim of another priest's sexual abuse in 1981 and 1982. Koenig, a friend of Tucker, feels Casey's service in the priesthood resulted in his probation sentence rather than time behind bars.

"If it were any other person in any other job, he would go to prison," Koenig said, "but because he wears a collar, he only gets a slap on the wrist."

Casey served in parishes around East Tennessee for 41 years. His career began in Chattanooga in 1969 and included nearly 10 years as a pastor of St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut from August 1987 to July 1997. He retired in 1999 but still said Mass and filled in for other priests on occasion.

After hearing of the allegations against Casey in April, Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville began an investigation. The next day, Casey told Stika there was "credibility" to the accusations, according to the bishop. Stika immediately stripped Casey of his priestly duties.

Stika said in a statement Wednesday that Casey "will never again serve as a priest of this diocese or any diocese in the world."

Stika's statement continues: "When Mr. Tucker came to us this spring, I assured him of my prayers and those of the clergy and faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville. I also apologized to him and reiterated my firm belief that the sexual abuse of minors by anyone is a travesty of the greatest magnitude and an abomination before God.

"I wish to restate my apology and my commitment to continued prayers for Mr. Tucker and his family. I applaud him and other victims of sexual abuse for their bravery in coming forward to seek healing and justice. I strongly encourage all victims of abuse to do the same."

Diocese of Knoxville Deacon Sean Smith said Wednesday that no one else in Knoxville has made an allegation to the church regarding Casey.

Smith said the Tucker complaint is the first ever involving a Diocese of Knoxville priest. The diocese spans 47 parishes.

Tucker said many families are suffering because of the harm priests have inflicted and encouraged any abuse victims to step forward.

"Most people take this to the grave with them," he said. "There are people sitting around who are victims. Father Casey even said himself that there are other victims around here. They're not alone.

"Father Casey is mistaken if he thinks this is the end of the pursuit of justice. He got lucky here, but I'm confident he won't be so lucky in the future."

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