Report: Financially troubled priest once ‘dismissed’ sex abuse accusations against other priests

News Channel Nebraska [Omaha NE]

December 2, 2021

By Joe Jordan

A once high-ranking Omaha priest, charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars, is also now linked to several priests named in a recent state investigation detailing widespread sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. 

A once high-ranking Omaha priest, charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars, is also now linked to several priests named in a recent state investigation detailing widespread sexual abuse by Catholic clergy. 

The report, released last month by Attorney General Doug Peterson indicates that Rev. Michael Gutgsell, when he was Chancellor of the Omaha Archdiocese from 1994 to 2003, knew about abuse allegations against three priests and all but ignored them.

The first case regarding the 73-year-old Gutgsell involves Rev. John Fiala who died in 2017.

[See our video report above]

According to the AG’s report, one of Fiala’s four victims met with Chancellor Gutgsell in 2002 and accused Fiala of sexually grooming him when he was an altar boy in the mid 80’s.

The report, which says Fiala was “rubbing and humping” the boy during wrestling and requesting the victim “remove his pants” accuses Gutgsell of looking the other way: that Gutgsell “summarily dismissed” his complaints and suggested he see a psychologist. The victim says he suffered “horrific” injury and extraordinary trauma.

The second case involves Rev. John Starostka (died in 2012) and all three of his alleged victims.

The AG says the father of two altar boys wrote Gutgsell in 2000 that Starostka had “inappropriately” touched his sons, one at least “10 times.” In addition, the report says , another man, who says he was “repeatedly sodomized” by Starostka when he was an 11 year old altar boy, says he spoke with Gutgsell in 2002. According to the AG both cases were not reported to police until 2004. 

The third case involves Rev. Ted Richling (died in 2019).

According to the AG, while serving in Boone County (southeast of Norfolk) in or around 1980, Richling was the subject of several complaints: a victim was “enticed to touch Richling’s groin” and Richling had also engaged in “inappropriate actions” with minors.

The report adds that in 2002 a woman, who had complained about Richling to the Omaha diocese, received a reply from Gutgsell who said the accusations against Richling “could not be verified or did not involve sexual abuse of children.”

Gutgsell’s relationship with Richling has since turned into a financial crimes case, that finds Gutgsell charged with stealing, time and again, from an ailing Richling.

According to court testimony, a few years before his death when Richling was deemed a vulnerable adult— suffering from “dementia” and a “massive stroke”—Gutgsell was granted power of attorney over Richling’s finances.

As NCN recently reported, prosecutors say Gutgsell wrote himself more than 100 checks from Richling’s account, totaling at least $154,732.

Gutgsell’s lawyer has indicated that his client had every intention of giving the money back but had handed it over to a homeless con-artist, who promised to repay Gutgsell but never did.

Gutgsell has been ordered to stand trial on the charges which carry up to 24 years in prison.

Gutgsell is also suspected of stealing $96,000 from Saint Joseph Church in Springfield, Gutgsell’s last church assignment but no charges have been filed in that case.

Asked about all of this, Gutgsell’s attorney told NCN, “No comment.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Omaha said earlier there will be no comment on the theft and abuse cases in Douglas County because the matter is now in the hands of law enforcement and the judicial system.

The spokesman has not responded to NCN’s recent questions surrounding the AG’s report and Gugtsell’s involvement in the Fiala, Richling and Starostka cases.

Finally, the Attorney General notes that whether it’s Gutgsell’s actions or abuse by nearly 60 church officials, with 258 victims across the state, further legal action is off the table.

As the “Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse” puts it:

“The reality that we are unable to prosecute the offenders because of the perpetrator’s death, or as a result of the barrier created by the statute of limitations is beyond frustrating. The most troubling finding from this report is the fact that on numerous occasions, when there was an opportunity to bring justice to the victims, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children who placed their spiritual care in the hands of those in church authority.”