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  Church Apologizes to Accuser Follow-Up Failures are Acknowledged Abuse Reported in '80s

By Stephen Buttry
Omaha World Herald
August 10, 2002

Catholic Church officials failed to follow up on an allegation of sexual abuse against the Rev. Anthony Petrusic, the chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese acknowledged in a letter to a man who says Petrusic molested him.

In a letter of apology to Willet Mather of Basalt, Colo., the Rev. Michael Gutgsell said he was sorry that Petrusic "took advantage of and abused you years ago."

Gutgsell also apologized "that your efforts to notify the Chancery in Omaha were not followed up with decisive action to address the situation you were subjected to and to make sure that no others were put at risk. There should have been a better response."

Mather said in a World-Herald interview that Petrusic molested him at the priest's cabin on Lake Wa-Con-Da in 1977. Mather said he told an archdiocesan official about the abuse in the 1980s.

After The World-Herald reported Mather's allegation in June, Petrusic denied the allegation in a statement released by his attorney, Tim Kielty of Omaha.

Petrusic, who was pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in south Omaha from 1969 to 1988, was prominent in Omaha politics and in the Catholic Church. He was pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Parish in northwest Omaha from 1988 to 1990, then left Omaha to become president of the Croatian Catholic Union.

He is retired and living in Hollywood, Fla., where he assisted in a parish until the Archdiocese of Miami revoked his priestly faculties in April.

The Archdiocese of Miami acted at the prompting of the Archdiocese of Omaha, after The World-Herald initially told Gutgsell of Mather's allegation.

A priest whose faculties have been revoked cannot function as a priest, but the faculties may later be restored. The measure is not as severe as the permanent removal from priestly ministry. Petrusic's faculties were revoked pending investigation of the abuse charges.

Gutgsell's July 8 letter to Mather indicates that Archbishop Elden Curtiss may take further action against Petrusic.

The letter says Gutgsell has discussed his investigation of Petrusic with Curtiss. They have discussed "the course of action that the bishops of the United States provided in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People last month in Dallas."

The charter adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says that any priest guilty of a single act of sexual abuse of a minor at any time "will be permanently removed from ministry."

Gutgsell's letter indicates that Curtiss' busy travel schedule in July was delaying action on Petrusic. Gutgsell said in the letter that he expected a decision by mid-July.

In interviews for the initial World-Herald story, Gutgsell said the archdiocese did not have records of sexual-abuse allegations against Petrusic. Mather said he told an archdiocesan official about the abuse between 1984 and 1988.

Mather wrote in an Aug. 1 letter to Gutgsell that he now understands the archdiocese has a record of his meeting in 1987 with the Rev. Eldon McKamy, who was chancellor at the time to Archbishop Daniel Sheehan. McKamy, now a hospital chaplain in Oregon, did not respond to a message left on his voice mail.

In the letter, Mather calls on Gutgsell to release all information the archdiocese has about the allegations against Petrusic.

Gutgsell was out of the office this week and did not return a phone call.

He said in the letter to Mather that he has had "a number of face-to-face or telephone conversations" with another man who grew up in Sts. Peter and Paul. The World-Herald has learned that the other man also has told Gutgsell that Petrusic molested him. The man has declined interview requests.

In interviews for the story that ran in June, Mather asked to be identified only by his current name, to prevent further stress for his family. He had his name changed legally since his youth in Omaha. For this story, he agreed to disclose his birth name, Christopher Vetick.

 
 

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