A former Tennessee church organist claims in a lawsuit filed this week that he was raped by a seminarian who was a protege of a powerful Polish prelate and that the bishop of Knoxville tried to cover it up.
The accuser, identified in court papers as John Doe, said the seminarian, Wojciech Sobczuk, sexually assaulted him on February 5, 2019, and subsequently Bishop Rick Stika told a confrere “that Doe was the aggressor and had raped Sobczuk.” the suit declares.
“The lawsuit seeks to hold Stika and the diocese accountable for their role in facilitating Sobczuk’s abuse of Doe, intimidating Doe into silence, and defaming Doe to protect their public image,” says the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday and named Stika. and the Diocese as defendants and seeks unspecified damages. Sobczuk is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Sobczuk, who is in his 20s, came to the diocese about four years ago “on the recommendation” of Stanislaw Dziwisz, the former archbishop of Krakow, Poland, according to a November 15, 2018, article in the official journal of the Diocese of Knoxville compiled by diocesan spokesman Jim Wogan.
Wogan did not respond to requests for comment on Stika’s reaction to the trial or for details on how Sobczuk ended up serving in the diocese. Attempts to reach Stika by telephone were unsuccessful.
“Bishop Stika was made aware of the filing on Tuesday evening and diocesan attorneys are reviewing the allegations,” Wogan replied via email. “The Diocese understands that the justice system operates at a very deliberate pace, and with good reason. The diocese expects the process to be fair and thorough and looks forward to the opportunity to vigorously defend itself if this matter moves forward. The diocese will have no further comment on the details or merits of the lawsuit at this time.
Doe worked for the Diocese of Knoxville from December 2015 to August 2019, the lawsuit says. He says he was introduced to Sobczuk by a colleague and the seminarian, over dinner, soon confided in him that he was gay.
“Doe felt bad for Sobczuk and wanted to be supportive,” the suit reads.
Doe says Sobczuk pressured him “for brief sexual touching and oral sex on isolated occasions” and for anal sex, which he repeatedly refused.
“Sobczuk apologized for being violent saying he had no sexual experience and that Doe should not tell anyone about what happened or Sobczuk would be kicked out of the Church and sent back to the ‘Anti-gay Poland,'” the lawsuit reads.
Then, one night, Doe testified in the lawsuit that Sobczuk “forcibly, painfully, anally raped him” and then ordered him to shower “in an effort to suppress the evidence of the rape.”
“Doe bled for three days after the rape,” the lawsuit states.
Doe says Sobczuk kept stalking him and gave him an expensive Catholic prayer book inscribed by Stika and a card on Valentine’s Day 2019 in which he called Doe a “wonderful man” and added: ” And for what was wrong – I apologize with all my heart.”
Nine days later, Doe said he called the Knoxville Police Department to report the alleged rape, but was warned by police that he could lose his job.
“Disheartened and frightened by the church – and unable to cope economically with the consequences of losing his job – Doe did not file a report,” the lawsuit says.
The following month, Doe said he was invited to dinner with Sobczuk and Stika, and the bishop reportedly said he was glad Doe and the seminarian “were friends” and gave him some advice.
“Stika told Doe that it would probably be best for Sobczuk and Doe to communicate via Snapchat – a messaging service designed and marketed to allow messages and photos to ‘disappear’ after viewing them,” the suit reads.
Doe said in the lawsuit that he stopped working for the diocese in August 2019.
The lawsuit against Stika and the diocese comes about 10 months after The pillara local Catholic newspaper, reported that the Vatican had received complaints from priests and parishioners in the diocese that Stika interfered in a diocesan investigation into an unidentified seminarian accused of sexually assaulting a church employee.
Asked about the allegations at the time, Wogan told NBC News that Stika said he did not interfere with the investigation.
There was also no immediate response to an email sent to Dziwisz at the Polish Episcopate. Dziwisz was also Pope John Paul II’s longtime secretary and confidant.
Sobczuk did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
The lawsuit says Sobczuk, who came to the United States in 2018, was expelled from seminary programs in Chicago and Orchard Lake, Michigan for “sexual misconduct” before landing later that same year in Knoxville “on the insistence of defendant Bishop Richard Stika.”
Stika, according to the lawsuit, described Sobczuk as “a gift to St. John Paul” in a 2019 video.
John Doe’s lawyers said Sobczuk was not a gift for their client.
“Bishop Stika and the Diocese of Knoxville sought to intimidate and destroy the reputation of a rape survivor to protect the church and a friend of the bishop.” said Patrick A. Thronson, an attorney who represents 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, and not the rapist, was the aggressor.”