Gil Gustafson Is Still a Priest...

By Jennifer Haselbergerl
Canonical Consultation
September 10, 2015

Since Tuesday, when MPR published its story about Gil Gustafson (a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis convicted of sexual abuse of a minor) and his efforts to purchase the Archdiocesan Chancery buildings, many people have written to ask me my thoughts about his efforts. My response is simple: Gil Gustafson doesn't get it. In my opinion, Gustafson's belief that he can somehow be an instrument of healing for victims of abuse is just one more lie that he, along with others who sexually abuse minors, tell in order to justify their behavior. On a fundamental level, it is this capacity for self-delusion that makes sex offenders so difficult to treat, it is why their risk of re-offending remains so high, and it is why no reputable therapist will ever speak of them as 'cured'.

It is also why, in 2002, the Catholic Church opened the door for American dioceses to permanently remove men like Gustafson from the priesthood. Recognizing the risks associated with allowing them to remain as representatives of the church, the Holy Father opened a window whereby American bishops could submit old cases for resolution, regardless of when the abuse had occurred. Many American bishops devoted considerable resources, not to mention personal effort, towards taking advantage of this opportunity. The Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, of course, did not.

Instead, the Archdiocese chose to incorrectly characterize priests like Gustafson as 'prayer and penance' cases, a designation meant to be reserved for elderly priests whose advanced age or ill health made the judicial application of penalties impossible or ineffective. In exchange for being allowed to remain priests, those living a life of 'prayer and penace' agreed to live quietly, under strict diocesan supervision, and to avoid causing further harm or scandal to the community.

By allowing Gustafson (and others) to remain a priest, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis both symbolically and legally accepted ongoing responsibility for him and for his actions. As such, Tuesday's disclosure that Gustafson has formed a non-profit with the goal of 'helping' victims of sexual abuse by clergy demonstrates that once again the Archdiocese has failed to honor its commitments. As a priest, Gustafson is prohibited from raising funds without the permission of his ordinary (canon 1265, 1), he is not to speak on the radio or on TV on matters pertaining to Catholic faith or morals without the permission of his ordinary (canon 831,2), and most importantly there is no way that a man who is being supervised as part of the Archdiocese's 'state-of-the-art monitoring program' should have had the opportunity to interact with victims of sexual abuse.

The Archdiocese made a decision in 2002, 2005, and again in 2008 that it would accept ongoing responsibility for Gustafson. Therefore, it is the Archdiocese's responsibility to see that his actions and conduct are circumscribed to the extent required by his current status in the Catholic Church. Clearly, they have not done this. It is time for them to begin.








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