A former Catholic priest and bishop who admitted to abusing a young man at Hannibal’s old high school seminary has died.
Catholic News Service reported Tuesday, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday, that Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell died recently in a Trappist abbey near Charleston, S.C., after a long illness. He would have turned 74 today.
O’Connell resigned as bishop of south Florida’s Diocese of Palm Beach in 2002, the first bishop to do so in the heat of that year’s Catholic clergy abuse crisis. The day before his resignation, he admitted that he had abused a teenage student in the 1970s at the all-male St. Thomas Aquinas Preparatory Seminary in Hannibal. That student, Christopher Dixon, later would receive a settlement from the Diocese of Jefferson City; however, the diocese never admitted to the allegations against O’Connell, which ultimately were documented in Time magazine.
O’Connell was ordained a priest in the Jefferson City diocese in 1963 and named rector at St. Thomas in 1970. He went on to serve as a bishop in Knoxville, Tenn., and in the Palm Beach diocese, where his ministry career ended. He was never formally defrocked.
The hilltop St. Thomas campus is now home to Hannibal Christian Academy.