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  Nine Men to Share $1.7 Million from Catholic Order That Admits Sex Abuse

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
February 5, 2009

http://www.twincities.com/ci_11640729

Bob Skjonsby, center, a plaintiff in the sexual abuse lawsuit, is comforted by his wife, Sue Skjonsby, on Thursday. With the couple are attorney Jeff Anderson, right, and in back, from left, fellow abuse victims David Bidney and Jeff Athman and attorney Michael Finnegan.

David Bidney trusted the man he knew as "Father Jerry" at St. Odilia Catholic parish in Shoreview. He was 10 years old when the Rev. Gerald Funcheon started sexually abusing him in the early 1970s, he said Thursday, bribing him with ice cream from the Dairy Queen on Lexington Avenue and then molesting him.

It lasted nearly three years.

"I thought he was God's right-hand man," said Bidney, 49, who now lives in Hinckley, Minn. "I was just a kid."

Bidney is one of nine men who will share a $1.7 million settlement from the Roman Catholic Order of Crosiers for the abuse they suffered as minors. The settlement in the lawsuit was announced Thursday at the St. Paul office of attorney Jeff Anderson.

In addition to the money, the Crosiers agreed to disclose names of other former clerics still alive who had "credible allegations" of sexual abuse made against them, Anderson said. The religious order also will disclose documents related to the alleged abusers, he said.

"They have kept these matters secret for years," Anderson said of the Crosiers. "But the good news is that they have (disclosed) it."

In a statement Thursday, Thomas Carkhuff of the U.S. Crosier Province said the order hopes the settlement helps the victims move toward "peace and healing."

"We are deeply sorry for these wrongs that were committed in the past by some Crosiers and for the pain that this abuse has caused these men and their families," Carkhuff said.

Attorneys Jeff Anderson, left, and Michael Finnegan point out a photo of Crosier Brother Wendell Mohs during Thursday's news conference announcing the settlement of a sexual abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Order of Crosiers. Mohs has admitted that he victimized plaintiff Bob Skjonsby when he was 17. The attorneys also displayed photos of other Crosier members involved in the settlement

The religious order founded in 1210, whose name means "cross-bearer," established an American presence early in the 20th century. In 1922, priests and brothers established a priory and school in Onamia, a small village 82 miles north of St. Paul.

The named plaintiff in the suit was a former Onamia man who was molested by Brother Wendell Mohs, 56, when he was a 17-year-old altar boy at Sacred Heart parish in Wahkon, Minn., on Mille Lacs Lake in the early 1980s.

Bob Skjonsby, now 43 and living in Port Orchard, Wash., said Mohs abused him at a Crosier cabin on one occasion. On another, they went to the luxury Izatys resort on the lake. Another time was in the Twin Cities.

The relationship was confusing, Skjonsby said, because in a way, he felt special.

"Somebody really took an interest in me," he said. "Came by, took me to dinner. I was somebody."

But the retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander spent years coming to terms with the damage Mohs inflicted.

"It's been a long, hard journey," Skjonsby said at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "But this is a victory for us victims and all the survivors out there."

Mohs has admitted that he victimized Skjonsby and that his supervisors knew he molested children even earlier in his career, but they kept moving him around to other positions involving youth, according to the lawsuit by Skjonsby.

Mohs, a native of Blackduck, Minn., has worked in Onamia, Belle Prairie, Minneapolis, Coon Rapids, St. Paul, Anoka and St. Cloud. He is believed to be living in Rice, Minn.

The other priests and brothers involved in the settlement were Roger Vaughn, Gregory Madigan and Gabriel Guerrero. The men were moved around among Crosier communities, including a boarding school seminary for boys in Onamia, Holy Cross Parish at the seminary, Sacred Heart Parish in nearby Wahkon, the Teens Encounter Christ program, St. Odilia in Shoreview and a community in Indiana, Anderson said.

Fred Guenther, 48, of Roseville, said he was also a victim of Funcheon's at St. Odilia, along with Bidney and an unnamed man.

He said the settlement money is important to help the men rebuild their lives.

"A lot of us guys crashed and burned and self-destructed," he said, "so it obviously will help."

As the named plaintiff, Skjonsby will receive $1.2 million, Anderson said. The other eight men will share the remaining $500,000.

Skjonsby is the only named plaintiff in the lawsuit because his case was the only one that met the statute of limitations for those abused as minors. (The statute runs out at age 24, but the "clock" stops ticking while a victim is in the military, Anderson said. Skjonsby was in the Navy for 21 years.)

Bidney said it was the secret's terrible weight that caused him so much emotional damage. He tried once to tell his father what happened. "I could hardly walk because of the pain," he said. But his father didn't listen.

"I was embarrassed. I was scared," he said.

"Don't keep hiding that's what hurt me the most."

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522, egurnon@pioneerpress.com

 
 

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