Lawsuit Alleges Bishop Richard Stika and the Diocese of Knoxville Failed to Stop Rape of Employee, then Defamed Rape Survivor to Shield Rapist


NASHVILLE, TN—A lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court for Knox County, Tennessee alleges that the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville and its bishop, Richard Stika, negligently failed to stop a diocesan seminarian from raping and sexual harassing a fellow employee in 2019, then spread false and defamatory rumors about the employee to protect itself and the seminarian, a friend of the bishop.

Allegations in the Lawsuit

Plaintiff, who has filed this lawsuit under the pseudonym John Doe to protect his privacy, was a musician and dedicated diocesan employee. He is suing for defamation and for negligence in employing the alleged perpetrator, a seminarian who is identified in the complaint.

As the 46-page complaint alleges, the Diocese employed the seminarian as assistant to the Bishop. The seminarian resided with the Bishop and Cardinal Justin Rigali for extended periods of time in 2019 and 2020. The Bishop has called the seminarian “a friend.”

The Bishop and Diocese knew or should have known the seminarian posed a danger to Doe and other employees. The seminarian was removed from multiple religious organizations because of sexual misconduct, before and after raping Doe.

The seminarian raped Doe on February 5, 2019 at Doe’s home. He sent Doe a written apology but continued to sexually harass him at work. The Diocese and the Bishop sought to intimidate Doe to not come forward about the allegations. They scuttled an investigation into the incident. They also falsely and maliciously spread rumors that Doe, not the seminarian, was the perpetrator.

Statement by John Doe’s Lead Counsel:

“The lawsuit alleges that Bishop Stika and the Diocese of Knoxville sought to intimidate and destroy the reputation of a survivor of rape to protect the church and a friend of the Bishop.” said Patrick A. Thronson, an attorney in the Janet, Janet & Suggs Sexual Abuse Division who is representing John Doe. “As the complaint alleges, the Diocese and Stika not only failed to protect John Doe from rape, but also scuttled a church investigation into the incident, and spread malicious and defamatory rumors that Doe, not the rapist, was the aggressor.”

The complaint is available here. Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC is serving as lead counsel; John Spragens of Spragens Law is serving as local counsel. The case number is 1-46-22. Color images of key exhibits to the complaint are available on request.

About Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC

The Sexual Abuse Division of Janet, Janet & Suggs has represented thousands of individuals who were sexually abused as children or adults. Among many notable cases, the firm represented 139 survivors of sexual abuse by Dr. George Tyndall in litigation that produced an unprecedented $842.4 million settlement against the University of Southern California. More information about the firm’s advocacy for sexual abuse clients is available here.

Sandra Colclough
(877) 692-3862

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