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Ex-church worker in Tennessee claims in lawsuit he was raped by seminarian

The John Doe says Knoxville Bishop Rick Stika tried to cover-up the allegations against the seminarian who was a protégé of a powerful Polish prelate.

A former Tennessee church organist claims in a lawsuit filed this week that he was raped by a seminarian who was a protégé 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 Feb. 5, 2019, and that afterward Bishop Rick Stika told a fellow priest “that Doe was the aggressor and had raped Sobczuk,” the suit states. 

“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 suit, which was filed Tuesday and named Stika and the diocese as defendants and is seeking unspecified damages. Sobczuk is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Bishop Richard Stika stands during a vespers service in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 8, 2019.
Bishop Richard Stika stands during a vespers service in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 8, 2019.Caitie McMekin / News Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

Sobczuk, who is in his mid-twenties, arrived at the diocese about four years ago “at the recommendation” of Stanislaw Dziwisz, the former archbishop of Krakow, Poland, according to an Nov. 15, 2018, article in the Knoxville Diocese’s official newspaper that was written by diocesan spokesman Jim Wogan.

Wogan did not respond to requests for comment about Stika’s reaction to the lawsuit or for more details on how Sobczuk wound up serving in the diocese. Attempts to reach Stika by phone were unsuccessful.

“Bishop Stika was notified of the filing Tuesday evening and diocesan attorneys are reviewing the allegations,” Wogan responded via email. “The diocese understands that the legal system works 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 Knoxville diocese from December 2015 through August 2019, the suit states. He says that he was introduced to Sobczuk by a colleague and that the seminarian, over dinner, soon confided to him that he was gay. 

“Doe felt bad for Sobczuk and wanted to be supportive,” the suit states. 

Doe says Sobczuk pressured him “into brief sexual touching and oral sex on isolated occasions” and for anal sex, which he repeatedly declined.

“Sobczuk apologized for being forceful by saying that he was inexperienced sexually, and that Doe shouldn’t tell anyone about what happened or Sobczuk would be kicked out of the Church and sent back to ‘anti-gay Poland,’“ the suit states.

Then, one night, Doe said in the lawsuit that Sobczuk “forcibly, painfully, anally raped him” and then ordered him to shower “for the purpose of removing evidence of the rape.”

"Doe bled for three days after the rape," the suit states.

Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn.
Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn.Google maps

Doe says Sobczuk continued to stalk 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 that he called the Knoxville Police Department to report the alleged rape but that the police warned him he could lose his job.

“Discouraged and fearful of the church — and unable to cope economically with the consequences of losing his job — Doe did not file a report,” the suit states.

The next month, Doe said he was invited to dinner with Sobczuk and Stika, and the bishop allegedly said he was happy that Doe and the seminarian “were friends” and gave him some advice.

“Stika told Doe that it would probably be best if Sobczuk and Doe communicated through Snapchat — a messaging service designed and marketed to allow messages and photos to ‘disappear’ after they are viewed,” the suit states. 

Doe said in the suit he quit working for the diocese in August 2019. 

The lawsuit against Stika and the diocese comes some 10 months after The Pillar, a local Catholic newspaper, reported that the Vatican had received complaints from priests and parishioners in the diocese that Stika allegedly interfered in a diocesan investigation of an unidenfied seminarian accused of sexually assaulting a male church worker.

Asked at the time about the allegations, Wogan told NBC News that Stika said he didn't 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 confidante. 

Sobczuk did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent via email. 

The lawsuit states that Sobczuk, who came to the U.S. in 2018, was kicked out of seminary programs in Chicago and Orchard Lake, Michigan for “sexual misconduct” before he landed later that same year in Knoxville “at 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 no gift to their client. 

“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, a lawyer 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.”