Parents of Abused Man Seek Justice

By Rick Linsk
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
May 26, 2002

Father Gilbert Gustafson didn't kill Brian Herrity.

But Jeff and Cheryl Herrity believe Gustafson's sexual abuse of their son began a slow descent that would conclude with Brian's death years later from AIDS.

The priest's crime also destroyed the Herritys' trust of the Catholic Church. That feeling of betrayal was rubbed raw once again last week by the news that Gustafson is still a priest and has been saying Mass at a monastery in Bloomington.

"I can't believe the man who laid his filthy hands on my son is allowed to hand out Communion and bless people with those same hands," Jeff Herrity said.

Gustafson was associate pastor of St. Mary's of the Lake Catholic Church in White Bear Lake when the abuse began in 1977. Brian was a 10-year-old altar boy. The sexual contact went on for five years.

Brian's parents found out in 1982 and complained to church officials, who sent Gustafson for treatment. Criminal charges came months later. Gustafson admitted to sexual relations with two other boys during his time at St. Mary's, a police report said.

Gustafson pleaded guilty to the charges involving Brian Herrity and was sentenced to six months in jail and a $40 fine. He was incarcerated for about 41/2 months. That seemed awfully light to the Herritys. But they took solace in the church's promise that Gustafson would be limited to clerical duties.

For Brian, life would never return to normal. Going public about the abuse left him "really torn up," he said in an audiotape made shortly before his death. In his late teens, he became entangled with drugs and the gay bar scene, and contracted the AIDS virus. He died in December 1995.

Gustafson, meanwhile, found a second career as an expert on sexual abuse. He is on the board of the Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute, based at St. John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., and speaks on the topic to Catholic and Protestant clergy groups. He also works on administrative matters for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

But it was the priest's chaplaincy at the Sisters of the Poor Clare monastery, secretly caught on tape by a Twin Cities television station, that brought the Herritys' emotions flooding back.

They say Gustafson shattered their family. At the same time, they plead not to be portrayed simply as people with a sob story. They want real change in how the church handles abuses.

"There has to be justice," Cheryl Herrity said.

The couple has advice for parents who suspect abuse: Trust your gut feelings and investigate. Oversee your children's moral upbringing and don't hand the job to others. Distrust secrecy. Don't confuse faith with religious institutions. For their part, the Herritys attend a nondenominational Christian church near their home.

Gustafson did not return calls from the Pioneer Press. Archbishop Harry Flynn, in a statement published in the archdiocesan newspaper, defended the decision to retain Gustafson. The priest has "very restricted work" that makes "a contribution to the Church and to society," Flynn said.

The statement only deepened the Herritys' outrage.

"Where is their compassion, when they write this, for the families?" Jeff Herrity asked. "It's all about the priests. There wasn't one word in there about the victims, the families. Who's more important: the dead victim, or the poor priest and the poor church?"


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