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Missouri Diocese to Close Seminary

April 20, 2002 GMT

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HANNIBAL, Mo. (AP) _ Church officials said Friday they will close the seminary at the center of sexual abuse allegations against a former Roman Catholic bishop, blaming financial woes and poor enrollment that aren’t expected to improve because of the scandal.

St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary will shut down May 20, at the end of the 2001-2002 school year, the Jefferson City Diocese said.

Church officials had warned last month the future of the seminary was in question. Just 27 students enrolled this school year at St. Thomas, believed to be one of just three seminary boarding schools for teen-age boys in the country.


On March 8, Palm Beach, Fla., Bishop Anthony O’Connell resigned, admitting he had sexually abused student Chris Dixon in the 1970s at the seminary, where O’Connell served for several years as rector.

Since then, three lawsuits have been filed by other former seminarians alleging abuse by O’Connell dating to the late 1960s. The most recent, filed Thursday, also named the Vatican among defendants and accused the Catholic Church of racketeering in a conspiracy to keep priest abuse allegations secret.

``With these allegations, it’s impossible in the short term to do any recruiting for the place,″ Bishop John Gaydos said. He said there are no accusations against current staff.

Enrollment at St. Thomas is less than one-third of the enrollment in 1963, when the seminary had 94 students. It has nine faculty members, including six priests, and employs 21 people.

``I had mixed feelings,″ Dixon said Friday of the seminary’s closure. ``On the one hand, I’m pleased because I know no one will be abused there again. The other side of the coin is I feel sad because there are good things that happened there. The education was phenomenal.″

The diocese said it would help relocate students. Only one graduate in the last two years has gone on to a college seminary, and one this year plans to do so, Gaydos said. A decision on what to do with the property has not been made.

The diocese said low enrollment in recent years forced parishes in the diocese to subsidize the costs of running the school. During the current school year, that subsidy amounted to $360,000.

``We know this is a painful decision for the students, their families, and the faculty,″ Gaydos said.


The last day of classes ``will be a sad day for many of us,″ Gaydos said. ``But, we have to focus our efforts on programs that will have the greatest impact on those we are called to serve.″

The Rev. Mike Quinn, a Hannibal pastor who graduated from St. Thomas in 1962, said a 40th reunion would be held over the Memorial Day weekend.

``It was a wonderful environment, a wonderful safe haven, a place where we were few in number but the atmosphere was really close,″ Quinn said. ``This stuff about sex abuse, we never heard of that.″