Survivors seek more info on abusive priests
By Pat Pratt
July 24, 2019
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is calling for the addition of a previously unreported name to the Diocese of Jefferson City’s list of credibly accused priests, and the group is also asking the locations where those on the list served be made public.
Longtime SNAP leader and former national director David Clohessy spoke with reporters Wednesday outside Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Columbia and called on Bishop William Shawn McKnight to add previously unreported priest James Gummersbach, who worked in Rolla.
“Where do people go, they oftentimes go back to places where they lived and hang around with people who they once lived with,” Clohessy said. “It is conceivable that Father Gummersbach, even though he is originally from St. Louis, it is conceivable that once a year he comes back to Rolla and vacations or meets a devout Catholic family at the lake.”
Helen Osman, director of diocesan communications, wrote in an email response that the diocese will investigate SNAP’s claims Gummersbach served in Rolla, but there is no indication at this time he did.
“We appreciate SNAP’s desire to bring justice to those abused by priests,” Osman wrote. “If SNAP has any information regarding abuse by clergy in the diocese, Bishop McKnight welcomes that information. The diocese will research SNAP’s allegation that Father James Gummersbach served as a priest in Rolla. At this time, we have no information to support that allegation.”
SNAP is also asking that Fred Lenczycki, who pleaded guilty to two charges of sodomy in May in St. Louis County, be added to the list. His recent charges are but two in a long history of sexual abuse of children over two decades in Missouri and Illinois. SNAP has stated Lenczycki also spent time at Our Lady of Lourdes in Columbia, but his name has not been added to the Jefferson City list.
“We are begging Bishop McKnight to add every single credibly accused bishop, monk, nun, seminarian to his list,” Clohessy said. “If your goal is to protect kids, let’s err on the side of transparency and caution and include everybody. Don’t split hairs and don’t make excuses.”
In addition, SNAP is asking any victims and the bishop to write the sentencing judge in Lenczycki’s case to request the maximum penalties allowed under law.
“We are not about being punitive, we are about protecting kids,” Clohessy said. “Tragically the best way to keep kids safe is to keep predators away from them and that means prison. Hopefully someday the shrinks will determine what causes pedophilia and how to cure it, but for now we believe he should be locked up.”
The diocese has stated a letter penned by Lenczycki in January 1985 reads that he was living at the rectory in Columbia and celebrated Mass in St. James, about 100 miles south. However, Osman wrote he has not requested to serve in the diocese and was in California in mid-March of that year.
“Regardless, Bishop McKnight wrote a letter that was read on Nov. 3 and 4, 2018 at the parishes where he supposedly served asking anyone with information to come forward,” Osman wrote. “No one has presented any allegations at this time to the diocese. Therefore, Bishop McKnight has no information to offer to the judge.”
In addition to placing those names on the list, SNAP is calling on the diocese to publish all locations where credibly accused priests have worked. The list currently lists only the diocese where they were assigned.
“It (the list) is not nearly as helpful as it can be because Bishop McKnight refuses to list all the places where these predators worked, so that falls on us to do,” Clohessy said. “Post the names of the priests, but also post where they worked and where they are now. That’s how you protect kids.”
Osman said the diocese, however, is omitting that information in the best interest of victims.
“Because the majority of our parishes are in very small communities, in respect of the requests of some victims and their families, we are not listing assignments,” Osman said. “We also acknowledge some of the clergy on the list may have had access to children and young people throughout the diocese through participation in some diocesan-wide programs.”
Clohessy said victims were likely not the reason for omitting priests’ work history from the list. He has accused the diocese of withholding information several times over the past year.
“In the 30 years I have done this work, I have never once heard a victim say, ‘I want the bishop to keep secret where my predator worked,’” Clohessy said. “Frankly, even if a victim asked the bishop to do that, I would say it’s irresponsible to keep that secret.
“Common sense and Christian decency would say, hey folks, here is where the problem might be, protect yourself and stay away from there.”