Fr. William O’Connell – Diocese of Camden

Father William C. O’Connell

Diocese of Camden

Ordained: 1950

Removed: 1985

Died: 1996

Assigned as follows:

  • 1950                St. Andrew Church (Block Island, RI)
  • 1950-1952      St. Francis (Wakefield, RI) 
  • 1953                St. Brendan (Riverside, RI) 
  • 1954-1958      U.S Navy Chaplain 
  • 1959-1961      SS Peter and Paul (West Warwick, RI)
  • 1962-1966      St. Mary (Providence, RI)
  • 1967                St. Joseph (Central Falls, RI) 
  • 1968-1972      Holy Ghost (North Tiverton, RI) 
  • 1973-1985      St. Mary (Bristol, RI) 
  • 1986                Absent on Leave

Summary of Abuse Allegations against Father William O’Connell:

Father William O’Connell was assigned to multiple parishes. According to media reports, November 1983, two priests spoke at least four times to Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, about their suspicions that Father O’Connell was sexually abusing teenage boys. In February 1985, Father O’Connell resigned from ministry in the wake of allegations that he sexually abused three boys, aged 13 to 15. He was arrested and police found a “guest book used to record the sexual conquests of minors,” along with whips, chains and photos of naked children. He was removed from ministry.

In June 1986, he pleaded no-contest to 26 sex-related counts for assaults on the three boys at the St. Mary’s rectory and at his summer cottage. He was ordered to serve one year in prison. The judge said upon his release, he would have to serve four years’ probation and also undergo two years of counseling at St. Luke’s Institute, in Maryland. He retired later that year.

In 1990, Father O’Connell was the subject of the first lawsuit ever filed against the church for priest abuse. The church settled the case brought by a Rhode Island man and his mother. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Father O’Connell moved to Camden, New Jersey in 1991.

In the early 1990s, Father O’Connell was accused of assaulting two teenage boys while he was working as a volunteer at Our Lady Star of the Sea parish in Cape May.  In 1993, a lawsuit filed by three men was settled for $384,000. The suit alleged that in the late 1960s, Father O’Connell and another priest, Father Joseph McGarvey, took them on trips and abused them while they were boys aged 12 to 15.  

In 1994, Father O’Connell was working as a freelance photographer in Lower Township, N.J. He was arrested for obscenity and for assaulting two boys. Police seized hundreds of photographs and videotapes of young men and boys from his home. In December of that year, he pleaded guilty to sexual assault and making child pornography. In February 1995, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Father O’Connell was the target of four lawsuits in state and federal courts in Rhode Island. They were settled as part of the September 2002 and March 2003 settlements.

Father O’Connell died in May in a New Jersey treatment center for sex offenders. In July 2019, his name appeared publicly on the Diocese of Rhode Island’s list of clergy credibly accused of sex abuse of minors.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and other clergy in the Diocese of Camden.  If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused by a priest in Camden, contact our office today. Although many years have passed, those abused by Catholic clergy in the Diocese of Camden now have legal options to recover damages due to a compensation fund created for victims.  Call us at (888) 283-9922 or send an email to adam@adamhorowitzlaw.com to discuss your options today.