Archdiocese Avoids Responsibility, Says Man Abused As Youth
He Got a Settlement and an Apology, but He Finds He Can't Move on
By Dawn Fallik
March 3, 2002
Henry Bachmann, molested as a teen by a St. Louis priest, isn't impressed by the St. Louis Archdiocese's removal of priests last week.
The church still waits too long to remove problem priests and too often leaves the victims to fend for themselves, he said.
"I look at the fight they put up when I brought my case," Bachmann said. "The church doesn't get punished for what happened. They're responsible, but they aren't able to face their responsibilities."
In 1964, Father James L. Gummersbach molested Bachmann, then 13, in the basement of Immaculate Conception church on Lafayette Avenue in St. Louis.
Bachmann, now 50, repressed the memories until an encounter with a boss brought the incidents flooding back. In 1994, he and his wife sued Archbish op Justin Rigali and the archdiocese in civil court.
The priest admitted in court documents that he had sexual contact with "various male children," including Bachmann, between 1954 and 1964.
The priest also admitted that the archdiocese and Immaculate Conception church knew about the sexual activity but simply transferred him and instructed him to get personal counseling. Gummersbach's contact with minors was not stopped.
The jury originally awarded Bachmann almost $1.2 million. But the church appealed, saying Bachmann knew he had been harmed when the abuse happened and should have filed then. In 1999, the Missouri Court of Appeals agreed and overturned the case.
Gummersbach, 74 and now retired, lives at a Franklin County treatment center, according to drivers license records. Gummersbach wrote a letter of apology to Bachmann and paid him $25,000 in a settlement before the trial.
But Bachmann, now living in Georgia, cannot move on. He went back to Lafayette Reservoir in 1997 to find the place in the park where he used to go after those basement sessions. But his private place is now a highway.
"There was a tree and a park bench," he said. "I'd lay on that bench with the sun hitting me and listening to the birds and I'd pretend to hear the ocean. I'd create another world."
Physical and social problems prevent him from holding down a job, and he continues therapy and drug treatments - paid for from disability payments and his own pocket.
But he does not feel the church ever made amends for the damage done to his life - damage he feels the church could have and should have prevented.
"The church just pays people off to keep quiet about it," he said. "That's why I used my name when I filed suit. I didn't use initials. I wanted to bring it out. I wasn't making something up."
Bachmann urged victims of abuse to come forward, if only for their sake.
Said Bachmann, "The only thing they can do is look within themselves and go directly to God and not to a priest."
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