St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary

St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary

St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary was a Catholic high school seminary located in Hannibal, Missouri in the Diocese of Jefferson City. Its doors opened in 1957, and since 1970 half of the priests ordained for the Diocese of Jefferson City have been alumni of St. Thomas. [Pio Cardinal Laghi. Letter from the Congregatio de Institutione Catholica de Seminariis atque Studiorum Institutis. 5 March, 1994.] St. Thomas was closed in 2002 due to a decline in enrollment associated with the negative publicity of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.


t. Thomas is Established

t. Thomas Closes

In a letter to the priests of the diocese dated 19 April, 2002 Bishop John R. Gaydos of Jefferson City wrote: "The seminary has been an important part of the diocese, but we cannot ignore the impact recent headlines will have on future enrollment, which has been in decline for some years. With only 27 students this year, the school was already economically unsustainable. The events of the past six weeks have only hurried the inevitable."

There were little or no discussions with students, parents, faculty, or alumni about the closing of the school prior to the decision made by the diocese. Had there been, the school might have been saved, as several families were willing to pay more than the bargain-priced tuition ($1,300 in-diocese, $3,000 out-of-diocese for the 2001-2002 school year) relative to most other private Catholic high schools in the region, while offering a superior environment for learning and spiritual development, and as a boarding school with all food, books, and other equipment included in the tuition price. There were no allegations of abuse towards any of the faculty then currently working there, and none directly involved with the priest abuse had anything to do directly with the school in nearly a decade, with the employment of then-Fr. Dixon, the man who broke his agreement of silence with the diocese to publicly accuse Bishop O'Connell, which led directly to the closing of the school.

It could be said that the closing of the school was a result of rash action on the diocese's part, as it was an extreme PR nightmare in proportions it had never seen, with national news broadcasts of the school and news trucks parked just down the hill from the school using it as a backdrop for reporters "breaking the news", despite the fact that the abuse had happened about a quarter-century earlier, and none had been reported or alleged relating to the school since. Action was taken to try to do damage control, but as the damage had happened about a quarter-century prior, the damage was done, and the school had little to do with it. However, the board of directors of the diocese along with the archbishop decided to close the school outright at the end of that school year. There was no discussion about how to act against the negative PR (such as changing the name of the school, ignoring the PR directed at the school, or stating publicly that the then-current establishment of the school was not under suspicion and to move on to the real issues at hand), and the diocese took the opportunity to close what was becoming a greater money-pit.

It should be noted that, contrary to the beliefs of the bishop's and diocese boardmembers' beliefs about the school growing to be a greater financial burden, that enrollment was to actually increase the following year, with several transfers-in of students at higher levels, and with an incoming-freshman class anticipated at numbering at least 14, the highest it would have been in some years (it had consistently numbered 10 for several years prior to the closing of the school). The final enrollment at the end of the 2002 school year was 26 (not 27 as the bishop stated) throughout all four grades; the next year would have pushed that number over 30 for the first time since the late 1990's.

The school and property have been sold by the diocese, and all school property that wasn't sold, auctioned off, or given away, have been taken into the diocese's possession.

Allegations of Sexual Abuse at St. Thomas

Anthony J. O'Connell

Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, who was rector of St. Thomas Seminary for nearly 25 years, has admitted that he molested at least two students in his care. [ [ Victims Say Pontiff Has Protected Bishop O’Connell, Cardinal Mahoney and 17 Others] ]

Children are the most criminally victimized people in society. The degree of memory, sorrow, and suffering inflicted survivor/victims and their loved ones by pedophiles is as tangible as it is measurable. The pedophile who is a religious figure — like Anthony J. O’Connell — inflicts deep and enduring pain with long-term harm comparable to the trauma of incest. [ [ " Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse, "Understanding Sexual Abuse: Defining Sexual Abuse," Mic Hunter, Ballatine Books, 1990] ] [ [ Childhood Victimization: Violence, Crime, and Abuse in the Lives of Young People, "Child Victims: An Introduction," David Finkelhor, Ch. 1, p.3, Oxford University Press, 2008] ]

Such is the case of the Most Rev. Anthony J. O’Connell, who resigned as bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, on 8 March 2002, after admitting that he had molested boys at St. Thomas Seminary in Hannibal, Missouri, where he served as rector for more than two decades. [ [ Diocese Reels After Losing Two Tainted Bishops] ] O’Connell was assigned to Palm Beach (1998-2002) a decade after he established the Diocese of Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was bishop for 10 years (1988-1998). In Knoxville he hosted weekend sleep-over parties for boys at his residence called "Bunkin’ with the Bish." [ [Ibid. 5] ] Criminal investigators and pyschiatric profilers believe Bishop O’Connell has molested at least 30-50 students in his care at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary during his 25-year tenure as a faculty member and rector of the college prep school (1964-1988). Child welfare organizations have documented 16 cases of abuse. [ [ Church Sex Abuse Victim Sheds His Anonymity to Help Others, "Columbia Daily Tribune" (Missouri), p.3, 16 May 2004] ] Stephen Spalding (1953-1982) is the first known O’Connell victim. Stephen’s mother reported the crime to the Diocese of Jefferson City in 1968. Stephen, who died in his late 20’s, is one of 3-known victims from the graduating class of 1971. With dignity and great courage, St. Thomas graduate Christopher Dixon exposed O’Connell’s crimes in 2002. Christopher joined the St. Thomas faculty following his ordination for the Diocese of Jefferson City, Mo. Likewise, Matthew Cosby, Michael Wegs, and two former students identified in media reports as "John C. C. Doe" and "Alexander" have stepped forward to disclose O'Connell's actions against students in his charge. [ [ John CC Doe vs. Most Reverend Anthony J. O'Connell, Most Reverend John Raymond Gaydos, Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz] ] ["Accuser Decries Bishop’s 'Plantation’ Life," by John Lantigua, Palm Beach "Post", Sunday, 17 May 2004]

The extent of O'Connell's transgressions in one student's case has been documented by "Time" magazine. [ [,8816,219750,00.html A Catholic Student's Story] ]

According to the St. Louis "Post-Dispatch," O'Connell induced another St. Thomas alumnus — Father Brian Driscoll — to obstruct justice by playing the role of bagman in an attempt to quiet further disclosure of allegations of sexual molestation. Driscoll, an O'Connell's protégé and confidante, succeeded his patron as vocation director and chief fundraiser for the Diocese of Jefferson City. [ [ Secrets, Sins and Silence, by Phillip O'Connor, St. Louis "Post-Dispatch", First of Three-Part Series, p.1, 14 November 2004] ] [Coming to Terms, Confronting the Church, by Phillip O'Connor, St. Louis "Post-Dispatch", Second of Three-Part Series, p.1, 15 November 2004] [As Scandal Breaks, the Search for Truth Begins, by Phillip O'Connor, St. Louis "Post-Dispatch", Third of Three-Part Series, p.1, 16 November 2004] [Woman told of allegations by students at seminary, by Phillip O'Connor, St. Louis "Post-Dispatch", 15 November 2004] [ [ Am I My Brother's Keeper, by Frank Bruni and Elinor Burkett, New York "Times" magazine, 12 May 2002] ] [ [ Worker's Warnings on Priests Led to Her Firing, by Michael Rezendes, Boston "Globe", 2002] ]

As "Time" magazine notes, O'Connell and Driscoll agreed to meet John C. C. Doe anywhere in the United States in order to deliver cash payment in exchange for silence:

" [John Doe] was so upset, in fact, that he called O'Connell on March 9 to confront him. O'Connell was depressed. Still, [Matthew] says it was obvious that O'Connell, in the conversation, "was trying to control me." That was evident in e-mail and phone messages O'Connell left for [Matthew] over the past two weeks. In the e-mails, copies of which "Time" has obtained, O'Connell says, remarkably, "I am praying and fasting for you."

The following day, O'Connell adds:

"I surely want to seek healing for you and from you." In response to [your] demands for face-to-face meetings, an apology for him and his parents, assistance in finding further therapy, financial assistance to pay for it and financial restitution for the abuse, O'Connell writes, "I will do some consulting as to how best to do what you ask. In the meantime, for whatever it may be worth, I am offering part of this pain so that it can be redemptive in some way for yourself." "But by this time, [the student] was moving away from reconciliation and toward litigation — and O'Connell could sense it. In a panic, he left three phone messages last Monday, the last one not so subtly urging [you] not to go public." As rector of the high school seminary, O’Connell knowingly employed pedophile priests, including ordained alumni, who were his former students. O’Connell also recruited known pedophile priests from Ireland to teach at St. Thomas. Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe (1969-1997) was well-aware of these matters and protected O'Connell and Monsignor Manus P. Daly, as well as many other predators employed by his diocese. [ [ Bishop Wilton Gregory Calls Failure to Stop O'Connell Appointment a `Travesty'] ]

O’Connell, for example, brought from Ireland to serve as dean of students at St. Thomas. Msgr. Daly, who taught at St. Thomas for more than 30 years, succeeded O’Connell as rector when he became the first bishop of Knoxville, Tennessee. O'Connell was instrumental in rewarding Daly with the title of monsignor. [ [ An Irish Tragedy: How Sex Abuse by Irish Priests Helped Cripple the Catholic Church, by Joe Rigert, Crossland Press, April 2008] ]

Msgr. Daly was forced to resign as rector in 1995. He then was transferred to a small Catholic parish in Marceline, Mo., the birthplace of Walt Disney. In 2002, Daly "retired" to his home in County Donegal, Ireland, rather than undergo therapy or admit responsibility for his actions. Daly remains a priest with full faculties and privileges.. [ [ International Traffic in Catholic Priests Who Abuse, 17 April 2007] ]

Father James P. McNally (St. Thomas Class of 1972) and Father Gary Pool (St. Thomas Class of 1973) are two ordained alumni that O’Connell employed at St. Thomas and who have been identified publicly by students in their care who became their victims. [ [ Interim Report of Number of Allegedly Abusive Priests in the United States, 18 June 2003, p. 17] ] David Bange was molested at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary by O’Connell protégé, McNally. McNally graduated in 1972 and was ordained in 1980. David lives in Jefferson City, where he is married and has a child. Pool’s victim remains identified only as John Doe. O’Connell also allowed known pedophiles to serve on the diocese’s vocation committee. The six-member committee included Father John H. Fischer and Father John Whiteley, who worked as St. Thomas recruiters throughout O’Connell’s tenure. Father Fischer molested Christopher Dixon when he was 11 years old. Father Whiteley molested David Clohessy, among others, during his tenure as associate pastor at St. Pius X Catholic Church, Moberly, Mo. Clohessy is the executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). At least four other Whiteley victims who attended St. Pius X Elementary School have come forward.

In addition, O’Connell was a key member of the Jefferson City Diocese’s "Priest Personnel Board" during the last 16-year-tenure as rector of St. Thomas (1972-1988). He drafted known serial predators to serve as board members — such as Father John H. Fischer and Father Donald L. Wallace — and St. Thomas students who continue to remain loyal to him: Monsignor Michael Wilbers (St. Thomas Class of 1964), who today is episcopal vicar for the diocese. In particular, he helped protect Father Hugh Behan, an Irish priest who was editor of the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Missourian. Behan was dismissed from the priesthood after allegations that he had molested a young girl in Missouri. As bishop of Palm Beach, O'Connell helped Behan secure work as a greeter at Walt Disney World, following his dismissal from the Jefferson City diocese. The girl's parents discovered Behan in his new job during their vacation at the Orlando, Florida, theme park. [ [ Former Missouri Legislature House Chaplain Under Investigation] ] [ [ "Priest suspended for abuse allegations had worked at Disney World," Orlando Sentinel, 21 June 2002] ] O’Connell was protected by his bishop, Michael F. McAuliffe and his successor, John R. Gaydos. They kept secret all information about O'Connell's past when he was vetted for positions of higher authority within the Church. O’Connell was promoted to bishop of Knoxville and Palm Beach by his close friend Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston. As bishop of Springfield, Missouri, Law sent his high school seminarians to St. Thomas for a rigorous college prep education. O’Connell, in turn, recommended the Pontifical College Josephinum to St. Thomas students interested in pursuing college and theology studies for the priesthood.

Law was member of the Josephinum’s Board of Trustees. Law was instrumental in O’Connell’s appointments as bishop of Knoxville and Palm Beach due to his position as one of seven members of the Vatican Congregation of Bishops. This Roman Curia committee oversees the selection of new worldwide, pending papal approval. It also schedules the papal audiences for bishops.

In addition to the Congregation of Bishops Law is a member of the Congregations of Oriental Churches, Clergy, Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Evangelization of Peoples, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Catholic Education, Bishops as well as the Pontifical Council for the Family. This is a large number of organizations for any cardinal to be involved in and is partly due to residing in Rome. He is archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

He and O’Connell are close friends to this day. Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, labeled the actions of Bishop Gaydos and Bishop McAuliffe and the promotion of O'Connell "a travesty." [ [ Bishop Wilton Gregory Calls Failure to Stop O'Connell Appointment a `Travesty'] ]

In 2005, O'Connell survivor/victims and their families and friend established Come to the Stable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation to support sex crime victims in their recovery. Initial funding comes from settlements with the Diocese of Jefferson City. In 2006, Come to the Stable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation asked Bishop Gaydos to serve as an honorary board member and provide additional seed money for the Foundation's programs. Bishop Gaydos declined. [Ibid. 17]


External links

* [ The St. Thomas Alumni Association website]

* [ The Diocese of Jefferson City website]

* [ Former Students Describe Pattern of Abuse at Missouri Seminary]

* [,8816,219750,00.html A Catholic Student's Story]

* [ Clergy Abuse Victims Seek Treatment Center of Their Own from Roman Catholic Church]

* [ Sin against the Innocents Sexual Abuse by Priests and the Role of the Catholic Church, ed. Thomas Plante, "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP): An Action Plan," by David Clohessy and Michael Wegs," Greenwood Press, April 2004]

* [ Ex-seminarian's charges lead to removal of priest]

* [ Seminarians Want Alma Mater Investigated]

* [ John CC Doe vs. Most Reverend Anthony J. O'Connell, Most Reverend John Raymond Gaydos, Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz]

* [ Bishop Caught Up in Scandal Is Recalled as an Ideal Cleric]

* [ Gregory Calls Failure to Stop O'Connell Appointment a `Travesty']

* [ Place of Honor for a Pedophile]

* [ The Writhings of Bishop O’Connell]

* [ Diocese Reels After Losing Two Tainted Bishops]

* [ Where's the Perp Vol. 3: Knoxville Bishop's Offices]

* [ Suit Says Bishop in KC Knew of O'Connell Abuse Cases]

* [ Come to the Stable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation website]

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