A Catholic priest with local ties has been permanently dismissed from the priesthood due to allegations of sexual abuse.
On Friday, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke announced in the Archdiocese’s St. Louis Reviewonline that Pope Benedict XVI approved the dismissal of James Gummersbach and three other suspended St. Louis archdiosean priests accused of sexually abusing children. Gummersbach had served at the Immaculate Conception Church in Park Hills from 1979 to 1981.
Gummersbach, James Funke, Bryan Kuchar and Michael Seidel were laicized or “permanently dismissed from the clerical state” by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The archdiocese suspended the four men between 1986 and 2002 after it determined that each had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. All four had been prohibited from acting or representing themselves as priests.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, in 1999, a jury ordered the archdiocese to pay nearly $1 million to a man who had been abused by Gummersbach 30 years before. But the Missouri Court of Appeals later overturned the jury award, saying the statute of limitations had expired.
Gummersbach, now 78, paid the man, Henry Bachmann, $25,000 in a separate out-of-court settlement. On Friday, Bachmann said that because Gummersbach was retired, the laicization mattered little.
Gummersbach was ordained in 1954 and removed in 1994. He served at St. Patrick Church in Rolla, Immaculate Conception in Union, St. Gregory in St. Ann, Immaculate Conception in St. Louis, Annunziata in Ladue, Immaculate Conception in Park Hills, St. Rose of Lima and St. Agnes in St. Louis and Little Flower Parish in Richmond Heights.
According to a prior Post Dispatch story, the civil suit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court in 1994 by Bachmann, said that Gummersbach sodomized Bachmann in 1964, while Gummersbach worked at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 3120 Lafayette Avenue. A key to Bachmann’s case was his claim that he was so traumatized by the mistreatment that he wiped it from his mind until 1992, when a sharp reprimand from his boss at the Savannah, Ga., port authority began to trigger memories of the abuse.
Defense lawyers disputed Bachmann’s “recovered memory” of the abuse: They contended that Bachmann never forgot the incidents, and so his legal claim expired because of Missouri’s five-year statute of limitation.
A statement from the archdiocese said the archbishop “expresses his deepest regret to all who have been harmed by these men and to anyone who has been abused by a member of the clergy.”
According to the Post Dispatch, it is the largest group of area priests to be dismissed at once for child sex abuse. The move also doubled the number of priests from the archdiocese who have been defrocked – or laicized – for abuse, bringing the total to eight.
Dismissal from the clerical state, which is given with the approval of the pope, means that a priest is dispensed from all obligations that he assumed by way of sacred orders and that the archdiocese no longer has responsibility for his support.