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  Man Alleges That Priest Assaulted Him at 13
Others Testify of Incidents in Suit against Archdiocese

By Tim Bryant
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
February 24, 1999

The Rev. James Gummersbach was "a pedophile wrapped in the robe of a priest and protected by the archdiocese," a lawyer asserted Tuesday in the case of a man who claims that, as a youth, he was sexually assaulted by the Roman Catholic cleric.

Although aware of problems with Gummersbach, the Archdiocese of St. Louis continued to allow him to remain, for decades, as a pastor in various parishes and to have contact with children, the lawyer said.

Henry R. Bachmann of Port Wentworth, Ga., sued over alleged incidents involving Gummersbach while he was a pastor at Church of the Immaculate Conception, 3120 Lafayette Avenue. Bachmann alleges the incidents took place in 1964, when he was a 13-year-old altar server who also played soccer at the church.

The civil suit seeks unspecified damages.

One of his lawyers, Rebecca Randles of Kansas City, told jurors that Gummersbach was Bachmann's surrogate father. Regardless, Gummersbach would tie up Bachmann in the church basement, take off the boy's clothes and sodomize him, Randles said.

Afterward, Bachmann would retreat to Reservoir Park, where the emotional trauma led him to blot out thoughts of the assaults, said Randles, adding, "He left those memories in that park for 30 years."

A sharp reprimand in 1992 from Bachmann's boss began to trigger memories of Gummersbach, Randles said. Counseling produced more memories that led to Bachmann's suit in 1994 in St. Louis Circuit Court. The trial, based on his so-called repressed memory, is believed to be the first in Missouri involving a priest.

Bachmann's claims against Gummersbach, now 71 and retired, were settled in a confidential agreement reached Monday. The remaining defendants are Archbishop Justin Rigali and Immaculate Conception church.

Defense lawyer Gerard Noce told jurors that evidence will show that Bachmann has no repressed memory. An independent psychologist brought in by the archdiocese undertook long-term counseling of Gummersbach and concluded he could remain working as a priest, Noce added.

But according to witnesses Tuesday, Bachmann was not alone as a victim of Gummersbach.

A man who is now a Catholic priest in Park Hills, Mo., told jurors that at least twice in 1964, when he was in the eighth grade at Immaculate Conception, Gummersbach tied the boy's hands to an overhead rod, took off his clothes and took photographs of him.

A man from Lake Saint Louis testified grimly and sometimes emotionally that in August 1959, Gummersbach called the then-altar boy into St. Gregory's Church in St. Ann and fondled his genitals and kissed him inappropriately. At the time, Gummersbach was a newly ordained priest assigned to St. Gregory's. The man said that he later told St. Gregory's monsignor about the incident but that Gummersbach remained at the church as if nothing had happened.

Another man, living now in Jefferson County, told jurors that when he was 13, Gummersbach took him into St. Gregory's and told him to do situps with his eyes closed. The man said that, through squinted eyes, he jumped up and ran away after he saw Gummersbach reach for the boy's belt.

The trial was expected to last through this week, at least.

 
 

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