Gatlinburg Priest Admits He Was Sexually Assaulted, Stayed at St. Mary’s Catholic Church

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) – A priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church has been named in a lawsuit claiming the priest sexually assaulted a parishioner in 2020 and Bishop Richard Stika allowed him to continue working for the church after he allegedly received the assault report from law enforcement, according to court documents obtained by WVLT News.

In February 2020, the father of Jane Doe’s unnamed youngest child was killed. His main language was Spanish. So she contacted a bilingual assistant at St. Mary’s to arrange an emotional support and spiritual guidance meeting.

Father Antony Punnackal was chosen to meet Doe even though he didn’t speak Spanish. On February 17, 2020, Doe traveled to St. Mary’s to meet Punnackal. The bilingual assistant led her to a room with Punnackal and left them alone, according to the documents.

Doe reported the assault to local law enforcement who then notified the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, the documents show.

“Upon information and belief, Punnaccal confessed to sexually assaulting the plaintiff,” court documents say.

Punnackal remained in his role as a priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the documents show.

Punnackal was indicted by a Sevier County grand jury in January on one count of sexual assault by an authority figure and one count of sexual assault for the same incident.

“We will not comment on Father Punnackal until the matter is resolved in the civil court system,” Knoxville Diocese spokesman Jim Wogan said. “He has been removed from active ministry.”

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