BY KEN LITTLE
Former Roman Catholic priest William Casey has been formally removed from the priesthood, Diocese of Knoxville Bishop Richard F. Stika announced this week.
The formal term for the process announced by Bishop Stika is "laicized."
"I have received word from the Holy See that His Holiness, Pope Benedict the XVI, dismissed William Casey from the clerical state (laicized). Through this laicization, Mr. Casey returns to the lay state," Stika said in an announcement published in the Feb. 3 edition of The East Tennessee Catholic newspaper, which is distributed to members of the Diocese of Knoxville.
WHAT IT MEANS
According to http://www.catholic.com, "laicization is a process which takes from a priest or other cleric the licit use of his powers, rights, and authority.
"Laicized clerics are forbidden to wear clerical dress or to perform ceremonies or to administer the sacraments ordinary to their former offices.
"Priests who are laicized are required to continue practicing celibacy, although dispensations from this discipline are frequently given.
"Otherwise, laicization renders a cleric for ecclesiastical purposes the equivalent of a layman," according to http://www.catholic.com
In his statement, Stika requests of East Tennessee Catholics "that you continue to pray for Warren Tucker and for all victims of abuse throughout the world.
"I would also ask you to pray for Mr. Casey and his family," Stika said.
CONVICTED IN 2011
Casey, a long-time resident of the Camp Creek community in Greene County, was convicted in July 2011 by a Sullivan County Criminal Court jury of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of aggravated rape in connection with sex abuse of then-altar boy Warren Tucker between 1978 and 1980.
At the time, Casey was serving as priest at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Kingsport.
Casey, 79, a former pastor of Notre Dame Catholic Church in Greeneville, was sentenced by Judge Robert H. Montgomery Jr. in November 2011 to serve a prison term of 35 to 40 years.
Casey is serving his time at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City.
He will not be eligible for parole until at least 2026, when he is 92.
He has appealed the conviction and is asking that it be reversed or that he be given a new trial.
CASE BEGAN IN 2010
Tucker made his allegations about Casey public in 2010 after contacting members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) support group.
SNAP members have been outspoken in their advocacy to ensure that Casey be laicized.
Father David Boettner, vicar general for the Diocese of Knoxville, said Casey was formally laicized in April 2012.
Stika was asked by Pope Benedict to contact Tucker and Casey and inform them of the action before the news was made public, Boettner said.
Attempts to contact Tucker through the SNAP group and the office of District Attorney General Barry Staubus, who prosecuted Casey, were unsuccessful, Boettener said.
"Mr. Casey declined to meet with [Bishop Stika]," he said.
After numerous attempts by Stika to contact Tucker, "he felt he had made every effort" to do so and decided to make the laicization public, Boettner said.
Boettener said the diocese acted in a timely fashion to address the allegations against Casey once they were known.
"This is the conclusion of the process. From the very first day we became aware of the allegations, Bill Casey was permanently removed from the ministry," Boettner said.
"I don't think there is any possible way we could have done more. The only possible way is if we had known years ago. We acted in the interest of the victim first."
SNAP members were by Tucker's side throughout the July 2011 trial of Casey. They remain unsatisfied with the way the case was handled by the diocese.
"It seems a long time since the April 14, 2010, date that William Tucker told the church that he was molested," Susan Vance, a SNAP member who lives in Knoxville, said Thursday.
Vance said Stika attempted to contact Tucker in early December, but was unable to do so.
Tucker, 47, who had lived in Indiana for many years, has relocated to Louisville, Ky., SNAP member and clergy abuse victim Jeffrey Koenig said Thursday.
Koenig, who also lives in Louisville, has been in contact with Tucker.
"He was angry that it took this long," Koenig said.
Tucker, who could not be reached for comment Thursday, continues the healing process after going public with allegations of abuse by Casey, Vance said.
"I'm glad it happened and he is no longer a priest, but I'd also like to know what took so long," Koenig said.
CASEY SEEKS REVERSAL
Meanwhile, Casey is seeking reversal of his sex crime convictions in Tennessee, or a new trial.
Last month, a legal brief was filed on his behalf with the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
The 68-page brief requests that the court "reverse his conviction and dismiss the indictment against him with prejudice."
Alternately, "The appellant requests that the court grant him a new trial due to the cumulative errors and constitutional violations which occurred."
The appellate court has until later this month to respond to the points raised in the brief.
Casey was also convicted in July 2010 of "crimes against nature" in McDowell County, N.C. Tucker was the victim of the abuse.
Casey received a three-year suspended prison sentence in that case, along with two years of supervised probation.