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Standing for Survivors supports Knoxville clergy sexual abuse victims

Groups gathered on Saturday and Sunday to stand with survivors of clergy abuse that occurred in Gatlinburg and Knoxville.
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 9:08 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - East Tennesseans gathered to stand with survivors of reported clergy abuse outside of St. Mary’s Church in Gatlinburg and at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Sunday.

A priest at St. Mary’s, Father Antony Punnackal, was accused of and admitted to sexual battery by one of the Spanish-speaking congregators, according to court documents obtained by WVLT News.

One of the victims, Michael Boyd, said he was abused while serving as an altar boy and hoped that sharing his story would help others know what went on behind closed doors and encourage other victims to come forward.

“The things that happened here in Knoxville, unfortunately, are similar to things I think happened across the country and areas that have happened to young people,” Boyd said. “I’ve seen a lot of patterns. It was really organized, and it was really disturbing.”

The second demonstration location, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, is where Bishop Richard Stika faces multiple lawsuits and accusations that he covered up sexual abuse within the church, according to court documents.

One lawsuit claimed that Stika let Punnackal stay at St. Mary’s church for up to two years after the priest admitted to sexual battery, claiming that police notified Stika of the investigation.

A different lawsuit claimed Wojciech Sobczuk, a former member of the Diocese of Knoxville seminary program and employee of Sacred Heart, raped a former member of the choir. The victim said that Stika and the diocese tried to intimidate him into making sure he did not report the rape or tell other people about it, according to court documents.

In the lawsuit, the victim claimed Stika removed Sobczuk from the seminary program at Sacred Heart but let him live with Stika and remained involved with the congregation.

“That doesn’t make me special; that doesn’t make Knoxville special,” Boyd said. “I believe that people need to know that a lot of what we‘ve heard about, read about, and seen in the media and the things that have come out about what has taken place in the church and in other areas happened here as well.”

WVLT News reached out to the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, but they turned down the opportunity to comment on the ongoing lawsuits.

If you or someone you know was abused by a member of the Catholic Church, you can find support in your area.

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