Priest Who Loved to Bet Apologizes for Theft

By Norm Parish
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 30, 2004

A Catholic priest who said he had a love of casinos is apologizing for taking $226,000 from an Edwardsville church to support his gambling habit.

The Rev. Gerald Bunse, 52, was reassigned a few weeks ago to a new parish, Our Savior Church in Jacksonville, Ill., as a priest in residence after receiving treatment for gambling. Bunse would not say where he received treatment.

Bunse said he resigned in January as pastor from St. Mary Catholic Church in Edwardsville after realizing he needed counseling. He said he now attends weekly gambling anonymous meetings.

"I wish I could undo what I have done," said Bunse in a telephone interview. "It is impossible to undo what I have done. . . I simply ask (St. Mary's parishioners) for forgiveness. I want to assure them of my sorrow and regret that the whole thing ever happened."

Bunse, a priest for 21 years, said he gambled at least once a week at casinos in St. Charles. Bunse would not say how long he had his addiction. Nor would he say what games of chance he played. Bunse, along with the Springfield diocese, also refused to state how he removed the money from the church.

Bunse, however, did say he had an arrangement with Bishop George Lucas to repay the money.

Springfield diocesan officials refused to state how much Bunse is paid, but priests with his background are typically paid at least $1,937 a month for salary and expenses.

Bunse has served at other churches in the Metro East area, including parishes in Wood River, Jerseyville, Highland and St. Jacob. He had been at St. Mary's since 1995.

Kathie Sass, the diocesan communications director, said the diocese was reimbursing most of the parish's losses. The diocese also doesn't plan to press charges against Bunse.

However, a prosecutor from Olney, David Rands, has been appointed to investigate the case. Madison County State's Attorney Bill Mudge could not handle the matter because he knows people at St. Mary's, his office stated.

Rands said he planned to make a decision on how to deal with the case in the next 30 days. Rands added that "victims' wishes" were typically something that prosecutors examine in such cases, but each case is different.

At least one longtime church member, former Edwardsville Mayor Clyde Hartung, wanted Bunse to be prosecuted.

"He should be prosecuted and placed in jail," Hartung said. "If that would have been me, I am sure I would be in the penitentiary right now. It just surprises me. This is just hard to believe."

Some other church members, however, want to put the incident behind them.

"We are moving on and not looking to the past," said Dennis Hessel, a longtime St. Mary's parishioner.

Since the incident occurred, St. Mary's is using a church financial committee in an effort to prevent future thefts.

"I am saddened, but I am also hopeful for the future and hopeful for this parish," said the Rev. Tom Meyer, the new pastor of St. Mary's. "I know people have been hurt, but my purpose is to help people move forward."

Reporter Norm Parish
Phone: 618-659-3637