A Wisconsin woman who said she was sexually abused as a child by a White Bear Lake priest sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis Monday, claiming that Archbishop Harry Flynn rejected an offer to negotiate with her and others on a new way to prevent sexual abuse.
Anne Bonse, 30, says she was abused a number of times between the ages of 5 and 10 by Gilbert Gustafson, then her priest at St. Mary of the Lake parish in White Bear Lake. Gustafson pleaded guilty to assaulting a boy in the 1970s and spent six months in jail. He has since left priestly practice, in accordance with a policy approved by U.S. bishops.
On Oct. 17, Bonse appeared on the front steps of the archdiocese office in St. Paul with her lawyer, Jeff Anderson, and a few reporters. She handed officials a copy of a proposed lawsuit but offered instead to negotiate “a process to achieve reconciliation, healing and prevention of sexual abuse within the archdiocese.”
Flynn responded Oct. 31, saying he would meet with Bonse and a family member or therapist, but not with her attorney or an advocacy group, as she had requested.
“I was startled and disappointed by Flynn’s response,” Anderson said. “We were asking him to be open with us in dealing with these issues transparently, allow professionals and survivors to have input. Every time we go public they fault us, but we offered to meet with them privately and they refused.”
The suit, filed in Ramsey County District Court, also accuses Flynn and Vicar General Kevin McDonough of intentionally causing her emotional distress and McDonough of defamation, because on Oct. 17 McDonough said her claims were “vague and inconsistent with the known offense pattern of the priest involved.”
In a statement, the archdiocese said Monday that Gustafson “has admitted to his past offenses involving young boys [but] he adamantly maintains he never abused Ms. Bonse. The Archdiocese remains very receptive and encouraging to Ms. Bonse should she wish to continue her conversations and accept our offer of an advocate.”
Bonse, now of Glenwood City, Wis., said she began recalling her abuse in 1999 and went to McDonough in February 2000 seeking help. She claims that she told McDonough details of the abuse but that his response was to hand her the archdiocese’s sex-abuse policy and suggest she could call him again.
Anderson, who has filed many suits alleging clergy sexual abuse, said Bonse has spent thousands of dollars for medications, therapy and hospitalization caused by the abuse.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Gustafson and St. Mary’s Church.