Lawsuit: Gatlinburg priest admits to sexual battery, remained at St. Mary’s Catholic Church
Court documents claim a Gatlinburg priest admitted to sexual battery to the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville and they allowed him to stay in his role as priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church for almost two years.
GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) - A priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church was named in a lawsuit claiming that the priest sexually battered a parishioner in 2020 and Bishop Richard Stika allowed him to continue to work for the church after receiving the assault report from law enforcement, according to court documents obtained by WVLT News.
In February of 2020, the father of anonymous Jane Doe’s youngest child was killed. Her primary language was Spanish so she reached out to a bilingual assistant at St. Mary’s in order to set up a meeting for emotional support and spiritual guidance.
Father Antony Punnackal was chosen to meet with Doe even though he did not speak Spanish. On Feb. 17, 2020 Doe went to St. Mary’s to meet with Punnackal. The bilingual assistant led her to a room with Punnackal and left them alone, according to the documents.
Doe reported the assault to local law enforcement who then notified the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, according to the documents.
Doe v. Punnackal by WVLT News on Scribd
“On information and belief, Punnackal confessed to having sexually assaulted Plaintiff,” court documents state.
Punnackal remained in his role as priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, according to the documents.
Punnackal was indicted by a Sevier County Grand Jury in January on one count of sexual battery by an authority figure and one count of sexual battery for the same incident.
“We will not be commenting on Father Punnackal until the matter is resolved in the civil legal system,” Diocese of Knoxville Spokesperson Jim Wogan said. “He has been removed from active ministry.”
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