Priest accused of abuse admits misconduct, resigns

Saturday, March 9, 2002

Associated Press/ Post-Dispatch, Kevin Manning

Christopher Dixon posed in his St. Louis apartment Tuesday. The Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, the bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., accused of sexual abusing Dixon more than a quarter century ago, has admitted the misconduct.The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- A Florida bishop accused of sexually abusing a student when he was rector at a Missouri seminary more than a quarter century ago has admitted the misconduct, calling his actions "extremely ill-advised and naive."

"I have thoroughly regretted it, and I apologized to him when he made his complaint," the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, the bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla., told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story Friday about his dealings with former student Christopher Dixon.

O'Connell resigned Friday at a news conference in Palm Beach, becoming the highest-ranking clergyman brought down in the scandal touched off in Boston.

Dixon, who later became a priest, made similar allegations against two other priests, including the Rev. Manus Daly. Daly was pastor at St. Bonaventure Church in the north-central Missouri community of Marceline until the Jefferson City Diocese made him one of two priests it removed him this week because of past sexual abuse allegations, Bishop John Gaydos said.

While declining to identify the other priest, diocese officials said his ouster was unrelated to Dixon.

O'Connell, 63, was rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal when Dixon was a student more than 25 years ago. On Thursday, O'Connell acknowledged Dixon's allegation that they touched inappropriately in bed after Dixon, now 40, sought him out for counseling as a teen-age seminary student.

In 1996, Dixon accused Daly and former priest John Fischer of molesting him as a student at St. Thomas and Hannibal Catholic School.

Was paid $125,000

In a secret agreement, the Jefferson City Diocese gave Dixon $125,000 with the promise he not pursue further claims against the diocese and the priests. Although O'Connell, Daly and Fischer were named in the deal, the diocese did not admit Dixon's allegations in the settlement.

Fischer, 64, who headed Hannibal Catholic School, was removed from the priesthood in 1993 after other allegations of child abuse, Louis DeFeo Jr., an attorney for the diocese, said Thursday.

Now living in St. Louis, Fischer told the Post-Dispatch he remembered Dixon as a student. But he denied that any abuse took place, saying "that's not what happened."

Daly, 64, was unreachable for comment, the newspaper said.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis removed two priests from parishes last week. On Wednesday night, that archdiocese said, a computer belonging to a suburban St. Louis priest was seized as part of a child pornography investigation.

Dixon, now living in St. Louis, said the abuse began when he was 11 at Hannibal Catholic School. He said an initial encounter with Fischer in the sacristy, where face-to-face confessions took place, "was the beginning of several years of abuse."

Later at St. Thomas, where O'Connell was serving as the school director, Dixon believed O'Connell could be trusted when he told him about the abuse with Fischer, Dixon said.

"But under the guise of trying to help me come to terms with my own body, he ultimately took me to bed with him," Dixon said, adding that the abuse with O'Connell continued for four years through the 12th grade.

"I'm deeply regretful that he feels that way," O'Connell said. "I thought closure was reached when the agreement was reached."

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