Ex-local Priest at Heart of Molestation Suit
By Ron Wilkins
Lafayette Journal & Courier
November 20, 2014
A civil lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to get to the bottom of a long history of alleged sexual molestation by nearly two dozen Catholic priests of the Crosier order — including one from Lafayette who worked in various communities in Greater Lafayette.
Gerald Funcheon, 76, has confessed to sexually preying on children during more than 20 years as a Catholic priest. The civil lawsuit filed in Minneapolis on behalf of his victims seeks to find out how far and wide his wrongdoing stretched.
Various civil case settlements over the years have forced the Crosiers to release the names of 19 priests — some still alive, some now dead — who were "credibly accused" of molestation.
The lawsuit asks for them to release all accusations, whether internally deemed credible or not and put them up for judicial review. The court system would then decide which cases to make public.
Leading the charge on behalf of victims is the Anderson & Associates firm in Minneapolis. The firm used a Minnesota provision listing the claim as a "public nuisance," which holds defendants liable not just in the state but anywhere in the country, explained Patrick Wall, a former priest now working for the firm.
Jeff Anderson, the firm's lead partner, placed Funcheon — personally named in the suit along with the Crosier order — front and center, essentially making him the poster boy behind the suit.
"He was moved a number of places into at least eight different states," Anderson said Thursday from his office in Minneapolis. "While Funcheon's abuse is in the past, the peril is in the present, and that's what this suit is designed to address."
In a 2012 recorded deposition, Funcheon said the inappropriate touching began during his time in Minnesota. In that sworn testimony, Funcheon estimated his victim count at as many as 18.
"This is a priest who could not control himself, could not control his sexual impulses," Anderson said. "When he was confronted by various superiors in 1992 ...(Funcheon) indicated there may be around 50 victims with whom he engaged in mutual masturbation or improper touch, and these young men were between the ages of 10 and 16."
Crosier leaders knew Funcheon molested children before he ever arrived in California, the lawsuit alleged, yet they never informed the clergy and parish members of the allegations. Quite the contrary — the lawsuit accused Crosier leaders of pushing a positive public image of Funcheon, one of a trustworthy priest.
After learning of the lawsuit, the Crosier order issued a statement noting the gravity of child molestation allegations, apologizing for Funcheon's actions and urging people to report abuse to its victim assistance hotline.
"The Crosiers do not tolerate any forms of sexual misconduct, and we are profoundly sorry for actions committed by Gerald Funcheon while he was a member of our Order," Thomas Enneking, who heads the order's U.S. operations, said in a statement. "The Crosiers have stringent policies and actions of accountability in place to prevent future abuse. We are devoted to fostering healing for the victims and their families."
Funcheon, who is from Lafayette, left the Crosiers and returned to his hometown in 1986 to spend the last few years of his ministry. He worked at St. Ann Church & Shrine before moving to a teaching post at Central Catholic in 1986 and 1987.
Yet Crosier leaders didn't tell the Lafayette Diocese of the allegations that followed Funcheon.
"Lafayette had no knowledge of sexual abuse when he became a diocese priest," said Kevin Cullen, communications director for the diocese.
After learning about the allegations, Cullen said the diocese notified its followers, asking any potential victims or people with knowledge of possible wrongdoing to come forward.
None did, Cullen noted, declining to comment on the actual allegations against Funcheon.
"The Lafayette Diocese thinks it's imprudent to comment on civil cases in other jurisdictions or on paperwork provided in association with those cases," he said.
The diocese removed him from the ministry in 1992 after learning of his checkered past — but he was not defrocked.
That ended a decades-long run that formally started with Funcheon's ordination in 1965. He first worked at Camp Wawasee under the Fort Wayne Diocese and then at the Catholic Youth Organization's Camp at our Lady of the Lake Seminary in Syracuse.
In 1969 and 1970, Funcheon worked as a weekend pastoral assistant while he earned a graduate degree in physical fitness at Purdue University. He didn't work again in Tippecanoe County until spring 1986, when he began at St. Ann.
He then held several other posts in the area, including as priest at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Kokomo in 1988 and 1989, St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Kokomo from 1989 to 1991 and St. Mary Catholic Church in Dunnington in 1991 and 1992.
Funcheon currently lives at St. John Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, a mental health treatment facility for clergy members — on the Lafayette Diocese's dime. Cullen, the diocese spokesman, did not know why his organization was footing Funcheon's bill.
A message for comment from Funcheon left at the renewal center on Thursday was not returned.