Former Palma Teacher Named in Sexual Assault Lawsuit
By Allison Gatlin
November 21, 2014
Palma High School officials shot back Thursday against accusations that the Roman Catholic institution had been named in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by one of its former teachers.
In a letter to parents, President Patrick Dunne expressed sadness and anger over reports of sexual abuse of children by any adult, “particularly by religious men whom they trusted and revered.”
“There has never been an incident of abuse during my tenure of 28 years at Palma,” Dunne wrote.
Although Palma High School wasn’t named a defendant in the 23-page lawsuit, plaintiff Steven Cantrell asserts that’s where he attended school when a priest sexually abused him.
In 1984, Cantrell was a 14-year-old student at Palma High School when Father Gerald “Jerry” Funcheon, a teacher, sexually abused him during a camping trip, according to the complaint.
The complaint goes on to allege Funcheon, now 78, could have molested between 12 and 50 boys across the country based on statements by the priest himself.
Named defendants include Funcheon and the Crosiers, an order of priests based out of Phoenix.
Jeff Anderson & Associates, a Minnesota law firm, alleges the Crosiers knew Funcheon was “a serial sexual predator,” but instead of removing him, the order shuffled the priest across the country to avoid litigation.
Doing so allowed Funcheon the chance to “groom” and later sexually molest Cantrell, according to the complaint. Those acts caused Cantrell significant emotional and psychological distress that didn’t become apparent until recently, according to the complaint.
Internal documents released by Jeff Anderson & Associates show the Crosiers knew of allegations against Funcheon as early as 1992 when he entered a treatment facility in St. Louis, Mo. At the time, Funcheon estimated there could be as many as 50 victims.
During a videoed statement in 2012, however, Funcheon hedged between “a dozen” and 18 victims.
Funcheon said in his statement, he was still a priest, but has been ordered to not wear any article of clothing or partake in activities that would identify him as a priest.
His first sexual act involving a student, Funcheon said, took place at St. Odilla School in St. Paul, Minn., where he was a gym teacher. The case that arose from that abuse settled out of court in 2003, according to a letter St. Odilla Catholic Community sent out to the parish.
The last act, according to Funcheon, took place at Palma High School.
Semi-regularly, the Crosiers release a list of priests who had been credibly accused of sexual abuse. In December 2013, following a release earlier that month, a St. Paul, Minn., reverend sent a letter to the Crosiers asking Funcheon’s name be added in light of a 2002 allegation of sexual abuse.
Funcheon’s name was added to the list in July 2014.
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