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  Vatican Defrocks 4 Area Priests for Abuse

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 4, 2006

The Vatican has defrocked four St. Louis archdiocesan priests for sexually abusing children.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the dismissals, which were announced Friday by St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke.

It is the largest group of area priests to be dismissed at once for child sex abuse. The move also doubled the number of priests from the archdiocese defrocked -- or laicized -- for abuse, bringing the total to eight.

James Funke, James Gummersbach, Bryan Kuchar and Michael Seidel were "permanently dismissed from the clerical state" by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to a statement from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The archdiocese suspended the four men between 1986 and 2002 after it determined that each had been credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor. All four were prohibited from acting or representing themselves as priests.

Laicization is a process by which a priest is returned to the status of a layman.

In January 2005, the Vatican laicized three St. Louis-area priests -- Michael McGrath, Donald Straub and Robert Yim -- for sexual abuse of a minor. Three years earlier, Joseph Ross became the first priest from the archdiocese to be laicized for abuse.

The amount paid in settlements to victims and alleged victims of the four laicized priests was not immediately available. But over the last decade, the archdiocese has paid $5.8 million to abuse victims, according to spokesman Tony Huenneke.

That number is small compared with other dioceses. The largest payout so far -- $100 million -- came from the Diocese of Orange, Calif., in 2004.

Bernard C. Huger, an attorney for the archdiocese, said any of the four men who are not supporting themselves would receive "a small amount (of money) to get them started." But he said any laicized priest in the archdiocese does not receive a pension or long-term financial help.

James Funke

Funke, 58, a former teacher at Bishop DuBourg High School in south St. Louis, pleaded guilty in 1987 of molesting two teenage students over a two-year period and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Funke, ordained in 1974, was suspended from the priesthood in 1986. He served at St. Cecilia, St. Rose of Lima, Visitation and Nativity churches in St. Louis, St. Patrick in University City and St. Martin of Tours and St. Bernadette in Lemay.

Missouri's sex offender registry lists Funke as currently living in Jefferson County.

James Gummersbach

In 1999, a jury ordered the archdiocese to pay nearly $1 million to a man who had been abused by Gummersbach 30 years before. But the Missouri Court of Appeals later overturned the jury award, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

Gummersbach, now 78, paid the man, Henry Bachmann, $25,000 in a separate out-of-court settlement. Reached at his home in Georgia on Friday, Bachmann said that because Gummersbach was retired, the laicization mattered little.

"It's a day late and dollar short as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Gummersbach was ordained in 1954 and removed in 1994. He served at St. Patrick Church in Rolla, Immaculate Conception in Union, St. Gregory in St. Ann, Immaculate Conception in St. Louis, Annunziata in Ladue, Immaculate Conception in Park Hills, St. Rose of Lima and St. Agnes in St. Louis and Little Flower Parish in Richmond Heights.

Bryan Kuchar

In 2003, Kuchar was found guilty of molesting a 14-year-old boy eight years earlier, when the priest was serving at Assumption Catholic Church in south St. Louis County. At the time he was arrested, Kuchar was associate director of the archdiocesan office of vocations and part-time associate pastor at St. John the Baptist Church in south St. Louis.

Kuchar was suspended by the archdiocese in 2002. He was later sentenced to three consecutive one-year terms in the St. Louis County Jail. When he was released in August, the archdiocese sent Kuchar, 41, to a retreat center outside St. Louis. The archdiocese said it will no longer pay for Kuchar to stay there.

Kuchar was ordained in 1993, and his first assignment was as associate pastor at Assumption. He also served on the staff at Rosati-Kain High School in the Central West End and as part-time associate pastor at St. Timothy Church in Affton. The following year he was named part-time associate pastor at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

Michael L. Seidel

Seidel, 51, was ordained in 1987 and suspended from the priesthood in 1998. He served at Holy Family Church in St. Louis, Sts. Joachim and Ann Chruch in St. Charles and the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral) in St. Louis.

Burke was not available for comment, but a statement from the archdiocese said the archbishop "expresses his deepest regret to all who have been harmed by these men and to anyone who has been abused by a member of the clergy."

 
 

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