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  Two Ex-Parishioners Allege Sexual Abuse by Priest in Suit against Archdiocese

By Jim Adams
Star Tribune
July 2, 1999

Two men have sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis this week, alleging that a priest sexually molested them years ago and that church officials are refusing requests to bar him from all ministerial duties.

After the men initiated civil action several years ago, the archdiocese sent letters concerning the allegations to the parishes where the men attended, St. Williams in Fridley and St. Michael in Prior Lake. The suits don't name the men.

One letter noted that the Rev. Gilbert DeSutter of Jordan ceased full-time ministerial work when he retired in 1993. After he underwent two psychological evaluations, he was found not to be a threat to parishioners, archdiocese spokeswoman Nicole Stewart said.

DeSutter, 71, said of the allegations: "I believe they are not true." He declined to comment further.

The suits were filed in Scott and Ramsey county district courts after settlement talks broke down in April, said Andrew Eisenzimmer, general counsel for the archdiocese. DeSutter and the St. Michael and St. Williams churches are also defendants. Each suit seeks more than $50,000. No criminal charges have been filed.

Stewart said the DeSutter cases are the only active suits alleging Catholic clergy abuse she knows of in Minnesota.

She said the archdiocese's policy on "ministry-related sexual misconduct" was developed after the sex abuse charges brought against the Rev. James Porter, a former Minnesota priest, in the late 1980s. The policy has included training for priests and other church workers on sexual misconduct and maintaining proper boundaries.

The archdiocese's June 1998 letter to the St. Michael parish noted another alleged incident, apparently involving a boy or boys in 1989.

"The question of Father DeSutter's behavior is not a new one for many of you. In 1989 there were accusations and concerns about inappropriate behavior on his part, and at that time, at our request, he underwent an evaluation," said the letter, signed by Archbishop Harry Flynn.

DeSutter had his second psychological evaluation after one of the plaintiffs alleged that in mid-1992, when the plaintiff was a young adult, DeSutter kissed and groped him after mass or during pastoral counseling at St. Michael. The St. Michael letter said archdiocese officials decided that DeSutter's "behavior did not constitute sexual abuse or exploitation."

However, "we felt he needed restricted contact with minors, so we put him in administrative work" after the second evaluation, Stewart said. She noted that the archdiocese, following its clergy sexual misconduct policy, sent letters in 1996 and 1998 to the two parishes inviting others with sexual abuse claims to come forward. None did, Stewart said.

The letter to St. Williams came after the other plaintiff alleged that in 1978 or 1979, when he was an altar boy age 12 or 13, DeSutter molested him at the church. He said his repressed memories of the incidents didn't surface until 1993. The letter noted that DeSutter left the church in 1983 at his own request. He was transferred to St. Michael in Prior Lake.

Lori Peterson, an attorney for the man from St. Michael, said that her client asked church officials to end DeSutter's ministerial duties, but that he continues to conduct mass occasionally at parishes during his retirement.

    Eisenzimmer said more restrictive limits were put on DeSutter's ministerial duties after the St. Michael allegation in 1992. But the priest continued in therapy, and the restrictions were loosened later to permit him to lead public services in parishes when no other priest is available, officials said. He is not allowed to counsel or meet privately with parishioners.
"I believe the archdiocese is satisfied that he is meeting these requirements," Eisenzimmer said. "I am not aware of any problems in him doing this."

 
 

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