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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A defamation lawsuit against a Tennessee bishop is growing in strength, with the bishop admitting that he accused an alleged rape victim of being the "predator."
John Doe filed an amended complaint on March 27 accusing Knoxville's Bp. Richard Stika of, among other things, falsely telling priests that Doe was the perpetrator in a sexual assault. Doe is accusing Stika of protecting the man who reportedly raped him: ex-seminarian Wojcek Sobczuk.
Number 159 of Doe's amended complaint reads in part:
Stika has orally represented to others, falsely, that Plaintiff, not Sobczuk, was the perpetrator, or that no rape occurred, including but not limited to the following:
a. Stika falsely stated at a General Priest Meeting at Cathedral Hall in Knoxville, Tennessee on May 25, 2021 that Plaintiff was a predator who had victimized Sobczuk. ...
b. Stika falsely stated at an annual priest convocation held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on June 8, 2021 that Plaintiff had groomed Sobczuk.
In Bp. Stika's April 12 legal response, he admitted to making these statements:
Admitted only to the extent that Bishop Stika, at all times relevant herein, accurately reflected his opinion and understanding of the underlying circumstances and events based upon the information that was available to him at the time. To the extent the allegations contained in paragraph 159 claim any wrongdoing or liability on the part of Defendants, and/or differ from or contradict the foregoing, the allegations are denied.
Bishop Stika made similar claims to this reporter in a Nov. 11, 2021 email, in which he said Sobczuk was a "victim" of John Doe, whom he characterized as a "groomer." This email is included in Doe's lawsuit as more evidence of the bishop's defamation.
The bishop also pressured this reporter to stay silent, framing any report as "calumny and detraction."
In a Nov. 11, 2021 email, Stika wrote in response to this reporter's queries about the rape allegations: "Calumny and detraction are mortal sins," going on to write, "I too worry about your soul. Any priest would."
As Church Militant revealed in our two-part Spotlight: Truthteller — or Sociopath? Sobczuk first met Doe at Sacred Heart Cathedral in January 2019, where Doe was the organist. They struck up a friendship that revolved around their shared love of music.
Sobczuk revealed he was homosexual, and became sexually aggressive. On the night of Feb. 5, 2019, Sobczuk came over to Doe's house, gave Doe alcohol and then overpowered him.
From the lawsuit: "Sobczuk, despite Doe's protests, then pushed Doe to the bed in a prone position, pinned him down, and forcibly, painfully, anally raped him. ... Doe bled for three days after the rape."
At the time of the alleged assault, Sobczuk was living in the bishop's residence, where he remained for two years. Text messages show Sobczuk texting Doe from the bishop's house, with images of the bishop's dogs, his furniture and surroundings featured in the texts.
Evidence shows that not only did the bishop know about their relationship, he encouraged it, even telling Doe and Sobczuk to text on SnapChat, a phone app that allows texts to disappear, making it easier to keep their friendship private.
Part I of Spotlight: Truth-teller — or Sociopath?
After the alleged rape, Bp. Stika took an unusual interest in Doe, inviting him to dinner and even giving him the gift of an expensive new missal, accompanied by the note, "[Name redacted], stay always close to the Lord."
According to Doe, the bishop even offered to pay for vacations that Doe and Sobczuk could take alone together.
Even after Doe's allegations, and after the diocese conducted an investigation — an investigation that exonerated Sobczuk, after the bishop replaced the original investigator with one friendly to Stika — the bishop took Sobczuk on an extended road trip to New York in August 2021.
Doe originally filed his lawsuit against the bishop in January 2022, but was forced to file an amended complaint after the bishop successfully argued that Doe should not be able to remain anonymous, in spite of his claims of being a victim of sexual assault. The amended complaint forced the alleged victim to use his real name.
Sobczuk first came to Knoxville in 2018 after a track record of sexual misconduct and multiple allegations by other men. In spite of knowing of this, Stika invited Sobczuk to become a seminarian for the diocese, even allowing him to teach children at a Catholic school.
Sobczuk was accused of using Grindr to engage in sexual hook-ups with gay men during his time in Knoxville, even reportedly bringing some back to the bishop's residence while Stika was away.
His reported Grindr activity took place on his phone, at the time owned and paid for by the diocese. That phone was examined by the diocese during its investigation into the assault allegations, so it would have had access to all of that information — information that has never been released to the public.