In 1993, a parent confronted Knighton about sexual abuse of a teen dating from 1986. Knighton reported this confrontation and his denial of abuse to the vicar for clergy and Knighton was referred to legal counsel. The attorney advised Knighton that, because no one had filed a complaint, nothing could be done. Knighton continued to exercise ministry.
In the latter part of 2001, the same individual who had first reported sexual abuse to a parent, revealed the same information to a therapist. In February, 2002, the therapist contacted the victim assistance coordinator of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the therapist and the individual reported the abuse. The abuse was reported as occurring at Knighton’s home when the individual would stay overnight as well as at the Cousins Center where they would go to swim and exercise.
The victim assistance coordinator and the vicar for clergy facilitated a meeting between the person making the report and Knighton, each with support persons along.
In March, 2002, a second individual contacted the victim assistance coordinator of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and reported being sexually abused by Knighton in 1974, prior to Knighton’s ordination, when the individual was around 15-years-old. The abuse was reported as occurring at Knighton’s residence. Knighton later admitted that some “inappropriate behavior” had occurred but refused to elaborate on what it was.
In April, 2002, these two reports were submitted to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office after the victim assistance coordinator of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was advised that at least one might fall within the criminal Statute of Limitations. Knighton was removed from ministry and placed under restrictions. The Bishop of Phoenix, Knighton’s alternate site of residence, was notified of these restrictions.
In June, 2002, the district attorney notified the archdiocese that Knighton was to be charged with one count of second degree sexual assault of a child. Knighton’s attorney was likewise notified by the DA’s office. Knighton was charged on June 18, 2002. Only one of the two reports submitted to the DA fell within the criminal Statute of Limitations.
When the information about criminal charges became public, a classmate of the individual whose report was the basis for the charges contacted the individual to offer support and to report similar abuse by Knighton while the classmate was in high school.
In August, 2003, the criminal trial against Knighton took place. Knighton was acquitted by a jury.
In September, 2003, Archbishop Dolan initiated a preliminary canonical investigation to determine if any canonical charges should be made against Knighton. Archbishop Dolan also reissued a canonical precept restricting Knighton’s ministry.
In October, 2003, Archbishop Dolan was advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that Knighton had taken recourse against the canonical restriction on his ministry. Archbishop Dolan informed the CDF that a preliminary investigation in the matter was underway.
Two different independent investigators conducted the investigation. The Diocesan Review Board reviewed the final report in March, 2004, and recommended to Archbishop Dolan that he should refer the case to the CDF.
In March, 2004, Archbishop Dolan forwarded the necessary documentation to the CDF.
In November and December 2004, through the Independent Mediation System, two individuals entered into settlement agreements with the archdiocese over their sexual abuse by Knighton.
In June, 2004, the CDF informed Archbishop Dolan that he was to conduct a judicial penal trial in accord with the norms of canon law.
From February, 2005, to July, 2007, the canonical trial was conducted by the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Two of the three judges in the case were from outside the archdiocese. The canonical court found that Knighton was guilty on two charges.
In September, 2007, Knighton appealed this finding of guilt to the CDF.
In January, 2009, an appellate court in Cincinnati was designated by CDF to hear the case.
In January, 2011, the appellate court upheld the findings of guilt of the first instance court and recommended to CDF that Knighton be dismissed from the clerical state. The penalty of dismissal was imposed by CDF.
Through the Independent Mediation System two individuals entered into settlement agreements with the archdiocese over their sexual abuse by Knighton in November and December 2004.
This narrative is based on facts contained in documents related to this Diocesan priest offender.
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