PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- A Roman Catholic bishop has offered to resign after acknowledging he inappropriately touched a teen-ager more than 25 years ago, becoming the highest-ranking clergyman brought down by a growing church sex scandal.
"I am truly deeply sorry for the pain, hurt, anger and confusion I have caused," the Rev. Anthony J. O'Connell, bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach, said Friday. "I've been loved since I entered this diocese, far more than anyone should be loved."
O'Connell, 63, admitted to the allegations made by Christopher Dixon, his former student at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal, Mo., where O'Connell was serving as rector at the time.
Dixon, now 40, said the two touched inappropriately in bed after he sought out O'Connell for counseling. Dixon said the abuse began in 1977, when he was 15, and continued until 1980.
O'Connell said the encounter came during 1970s-era "experiential" counseling sessions with the teen.
"I was as wrong as could be in taking that kind of approach and I'm so sorry," O'Connell said. "There was nothing in the relationship that was anything other than touches."
"For those who will be angry, I certainly ask, when the time is right, that they pray for my forgiveness," he said.
Asked if he had been involved with any others, O'Connell said there could be "one other person of a somewhat similar situation, in a somewhat similar time frame." He would not elaborate.
O'Connell offered his resignation to the pope's top representative in the United States. As in the case of all offers by bishops to resign, the decision to accept or reject the request will be up to Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican's press office said Saturday it would publish the pope's decision once it's is made. The office did not say how soon that might be.
The nation's latest and biggest sex-abuse scandal involving priests began in the Archdiocese of Boston, where Cardinal Bernard Law admitted that a former priest molested children for years but was kept on the job anyway, being shuttled from parish to parish. More than 130 people have come forward to say the defrocked priest, John Geoghan, abused them.
Since January, when the Boston case gained national attention, dozens of priests out of more than 47,000 nationwide have been suspended or forced to resign, and priests' names have been turned over to prosecutors.
O'Connell, who has been a priest for 38 years, came to Palm Beach in 1999 to succeed J. Keith Symons, the first U.S. bishop to resign because of sexual involvement with boys.
After that scandal, Florida's bishops began background checks for all clergy, lay employees and volunteers who work with children, elderly and disabled people.
O'Connell said he failed to tell his superiors about the relationship when he was asked to replace Symons. "It should have come up from myself," he said.
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