Lawyer says racketeering suit planned against bishop who has admitted committing sex abuse

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Federal laws aimed primarily at racketeering will be used to sue three dioceses and an ex-bishop on behalf of a child abuse victim, the plaintiff's attorney said.

Lawyer Jeff Anderson announced plans for the suit Thursday. Similar suits using racketeering laws against priests have failed.

The former bishop, Anthony O'Connell, resigned after admitting he sexually abused a teen-ager. He is the highest-ranking church official to resign or be removed so far because of the sex-abuse scandal that began in Boston. Anderson is handling at least one other case against O'Connell.

A statement from Anderson's law firm said the suit would be announced Friday. Defendants would include O'Connell and the dioceses where he worked: Jefferson City, Mo.; Knoxville, Tenn.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

The lawyer's client is a former seminary student, according to the release. He was not identified.

Allegations against O'Connell in the planned suit were not specified, and Anderson did not return telephone calls Thursday for additional comment.

On Monday, Anderson announced a suit alleging sexual exploitation against O'Connell on behalf of a 47-year-old Minnesotan whose name has not been made public. He was 15 when the abuse began, Anderson said.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been named in two similar suits. A judge dismissed racketeering charges in a case in New Jersey in 1995, while plaintiffs eventually abandoned a similar claim as part of a suit that led to a $30 million settlement against the Diocese of Dallas in 1998.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the conference of bishops, said Thursday she couldn't comment on Anderson's planned suit until she sees it.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) was aimed primarily at organized crime, but includes provisions for civil cases when someone is harmed by a ''pattern'' of illegal activity.

O'Connell resigned from the Palm Beach Diocese two weeks ago after admitting he sexually abused former seminarian Christopher Dixon, now 40, in the 1970s.

O'Connell has been in seclusion since his resignation.



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