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Bishop Quits, Admits Sex Misconduct

March 8, 2002

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) _ A Roman Catholic bishop resigned Friday after admitting he sexually abused a student at a Missouri seminary more than 25 years ago.

``I am truly deeply sorry for the pain, hurt, anger and confusion I have caused,″ said the Rev. Anthony J. O’Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach. ``I’ve been loved since I entered this diocese, far more than anyone should be loved.″

O’Connell admitted to allegations made by former student Christopher Dixon, now 40. Dixon said they two touched inappropriately in bed after he sought out O’Connell for counseling when he was a teen-age seminary student.

O’Connell, 63, was rector of St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., at the time.

``For those who will be angry, I certainly ask, when the time is right, that they pray for my forgiveness,″ O’Connell said.

O’Connell was installed in 1999 to replace Palm Beach Bishop J. Keith Symons, who stepped down in the wake of a sex scandal. Symons was first U.S. bishop to resign due to sexual involvement with boys.

As a result of the scandal, Florida’s Catholic bishops began performing background checks on all clergy, lay employees and volunteers who work with children, elderly and disabled people.

O’Connell’s admission came only hours after Florida’s Catholic bishops issued a four-paragraph statement calling sexual abuse ``both criminal and sinful,″ assuring their 2.2 million followers that the church has procedures to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct.

Michael McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, did not immediately return a phone call.

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