Former St. Cloud Diocese Priest Writes Book about Abuse

Brainerd Dispatch
July 26, 2002

ST. CLOUD (AP) — A priest who was convicted of sexual abuse has written an autobiography that criticizes the Catholic church for a lack of sexual education in the seminary and says he should be forgiven for past sins.

In his book called "My Journey Alone", the Rev. Bill Garding tells how he has suppressed his homosexuality since he was a teenager and later sought "approval and love" from an adolescent male parishioner.

"I got rid of all the anger and pain I'd had for 50 years. I transferred it onto paper and I felt good about it," Garding said about his book.

Garding was assigned to his third parish — at St. John's in the Bluffton in west-central Minnesota — when he was removed by then-Bishop Jerome Hanus of the St. Cloud Diocese.

A 20-year-old man accused Garding in 1989 of sexually abusing him over a three-year period, starting when he attended confirmation classes taught by Garding, according to court records filed in Otter Tail County.

Garding pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual assault and received a stayed sentence of 10 years on the condition that he served six months in jail. He also was ordered to undergo counseling and have no unsupervised contact with juveniles for 10 years.

Garding spent the past four years writing his autobiography, which Vantage Press Inc., of New York, said it will publish sometime next year.

"I'm hoping to make a difference in the world," Garding said of his book. "I guess I'm a positive person no matter how bad or negative things are."

Garding, 63, said he has nothing to hide, not the actions taken against him by the diocese or his sexual orientation.

His book describes his life growing up on an Albany dairy farm and how he wanted to become a priest since he was 8. It also includes when he realized he was gay at age 14 and eventually was ordained at age 43.

Garding says he was sexually abused several times. And he is critical of his seminary training, saying it should have addressed boundaries and the issues of homosexuality, heterosexuality and even pedophilia.

The Rev. William Skudlarek, director of priestly formation at St. John's University, was the seminary's rector in the mid-1980s. He disagreed with Garding's view of how seminary training addressed sexuality.

"There were very specific workshops on the area of sexuality in which the issues of sexual orientation and the issues of sexual boundaries were addressed," Skudlarek said.

Seminarians were responsible for addressing any such concerns with a spiritual director before becoming a priest, he said.

In January 1991, the 20-year-old victim brought a civil case against Garding, the Bluffton church and the Diocese of St. Cloud. The case was dismissed nine months later with no money paid out.

Then in June, Garding was notified of the U.S. bishops' decision that priests who have sexually abused minors can no longer celebrate Mass publicly, wear clerical garb or present themselves publicly as a priest.

Today, Garding lives a low-profile life, caring for an elderly woman in his home on Little Birch Lake and socializing with a small circle of friends.

In the eyes of the church, Garding retains only the inner priesthood bestowed on him during ordination.


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