An exclusive, from The Pillar:
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, sidelined an investigator appointed to scrutinize allegations of sexual assault and misconduct committed by a diocesan seminarian. The bishop told The Pillar he intervened because he did not believe the investigator appointed by a diocesan review board was competent for the task, and that he is convinced of the seminarian’s innocence.
“I have been fighting in the diocese rumors about [the seminarian]…I’ve been constantly fighting these battles because I know he is innocent,” Stika said of the seminarian. “And if there’s anything, maybe I’m like a dog with a bone. I really believe somebody has to stand up for people when you think they’re innocent.”
The bishop’s admission came weeks after he was accused of impeding an investigation into serial sexual misconduct by the seminarian, a charge at the center of several reports submitted to the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops by Knoxville priests and lay Catholics.
The Vatican has not yet announced a formal investigation into those reports. But Stika said that he believes that any thorough review of the matter will exonerate him, adding that he has “nothing to hide.”
In a May 10 interview, Stika also told The Pillar that he continued to classify the student as a diocesan seminarian after he was dismissed from seminary studies, because changing that classification could have negatively affected the seminarian’s immigration status.
The bishop also addressed allegations that he threatened a Knoxville priest with canonical penalties amid disagreement over the seminarian. The bishop said his mention of penalties had come in part because the priest “spread rumors” about the seminarian among the diocesan presbyterate, but that other factors had also contributed to the decision.
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