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  In Rare Civil Trial Here, Man Accuses Priest of Abuse in '60s

By Tim Bryant
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
February 23, 1999

Testimony is set to begin today in St. Louis Circuit Court in the case of a man who alleges that a now-retired Roman Catholic priest sexually abused him in the 1960s.

Lawyers for the man, Henry R. Bachmann of Port Wentworth, Ga., said they believe the civil trial is the first of its type in Missouri. Other suits alleging sexual abuse by priests have either been dropped, dismissed or settled before going to trial.

Bachmann's suit, filed in 1994, alleges he was sexually abused by the Rev. James L. Gummersbach, now 71, when the priest was assigned to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 3120 Lafayette Avenue, in the 1960s.

The suit alleges that the molestation began when Bachmann was a child attending Immaculate Conception.

But Gummersbach is no longer in the case; lawyers for him and the plaintiff reached a confidential settlement Monday.

The remaining defendants are the Immaculate Conception and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Bachmann's lawyers, Stanley Spero of Cambridge, Mass., and Rebecca Randles of Kansas City, allege that archdiocesan officials are liable because they intentionally failed to supervise Gummersbach.

"We believe evidence will show that the archdiocese knew of Gummersbach's propensity to harm children and did nothing about it," Randles said last week.

Lawyers spent the day Monday picking a jury from a panel of about 40 people. They settled on a jury of six men and six women.

The suit does not request a specific amount in financial damages.

Bachmann alleges in his suit that he was unaware of abuse by Gummersbach until, as an adult, he recalled the incidents while undergoing counseling. Such so-called repressed memory cases are controversial; many have been filed against priests throughout the country.

Spero said that Bachmann, who is in his 40s, is emotionally disabled because of the abuse he suffered and cannot work.

In addition to pastoring Immaculate Conception, Gummersbach has also been a chaplain at several St. Louis-area hospitals and has served in p arishes in St. Ann and Ladue. The trial could last until next week.

Monsignor Richard Stika may be a potential witness. He coordinated the pope's recent visit to St. Louis.

 
 

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