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Lawsuit Threatened Over Archdiocese Sex Abuse Policy

Oct 17, 2002 | Pioneer Press

On a day when the Vatican appeared to reject parts of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ response to the church sex-abuse scandal, St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson attempted to push the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis further in its response.

Anderson announced Thursday he would file a lawsuit on behalf of an alleged victim from Wisconsin if the archdiocese did not begin serious negotiations in the next 30 days to put in place the kind of far-reaching response St. John’s Abbey announced earlier this month.

The archdiocese, in its strongest response to any recent accusation, issued a one-page statement saying the complaint was without foundation.

Anderson’s client, Anne Bonse, 30, of Glenwood City, says she was abused between the ages of 5 and 10 by the Rev. Gilbert Gustafson, then a priest at St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake.

She accuses him of fondling her and inappropriately touching and holding her on several occasions from about 1977 to about 1982 at the parish school, at her home and on a family vacation to Michigan with Gustafson and two other families.

Gustafson in 1982 pleaded guilty to criminal charges that he abused altar boy Brian Herrity at St. Mary’s over approximately the same five-year period. Gustafson was sentenced to six months in jail and a $40 fine.

Anderson said Bonse had no memory of being abused until the fall of 1999, when she had a sudden recollection while watching a televised newscast about sexual abuse.

“I had been treated for depression for many years, not knowing why,’’ Bonse said. “Then it was like a flipped switch. I told my husband, ‘I was sexually abused.’ He was confused, thinking I meant by my parents or something.

“I said, ‘No, it was a priest.’ â€

She claims she was “re-victimized’’ after an unsatisfactory meeting with the archdiocese in February 2000. She said she wanted help and a validation of what had happened to her.

“The archdiocese absolutely rejects the charge of ‘re-victimization’ of this or any victim,’’ said a statement released Thursday by Chancellor William Fallon.

According to Fallon’s statement, Bonse’s concerns, as expressed that day to vicar general Kevin McDonough, “were both vague and inconsistent with the known offense pattern of the priest involved.’’

Fallon said the archdiocese offered her the services of a victim advocate, “the kinds of services that were called for by our 1992 and 1998 pastoral statements on sexual misconduct.’’

Anderson wants Archbishop Harry Flynn to meet with him to discuss a broader response to victims than the archdiocese or U.S. bishops have agreed to. Flynn is not scheduled to return from a trip to Rome and Madagascar until late next week.

Anderson proposes creation of a review board with wide oversight and authority that would be composed entirely of members outside the church hierarchy, including abuse survivors, law enforcement officials and mental health experts.

St. John’s Abbey, which as part of a religious order is not subject to the oversight of the U.S. bishops, agreed to such a provision in a settlement with Anderson two weeks ago. The archdiocese currently appoints its own clergy review board to handle abuse allegations.

Gustafson has been disciplined according to prevailing archdiocese policy, Fallon said. After his conviction, he worked for Catholic Charities and in diocesan administrative jobs and ministered to a community of cloistered nuns in Bloomington. As a result of the bishops’ abuse policy approved in June, he is now completely out of ministry.

“He is not to call himself father, not to dress like a priest, and not to engage in any priestly ministry,’’ Fallon said.

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