e-mail us
Man awarded $1.2 million in sex abuse case


A St. Louis jury has awarded nearly $1.2 million in damages to a man who claimed that a St. Louis Catholic priest sexually abused him as a boy.

In an unrelated case, the investigation of child sex abuse charges against former Catholic priest Edward McKeown in Nashville, Tenn., has widened to include a second former clergyman.

Henry Bachmann said March 1 that the St. Louis jury award fulfills the second of two goals he and his wife had for suing the archdiocese. The first goal was to get an admission from the now-retired Fr. James Gummersbach that Gummersbach had sodomized Bachmann nearly 35 years ago when Bachmann was 13.

It was unclear whether that goal was met after Bachmann and the lawyers for the priest reached a confidential settlement Feb. 23. Bachmann said he pressed on with his case against the archdiocese for allegedly failing to supervise the priest.

Bachmann had claimed that he repressed all memory of being molested until 1992 when a harsh reprimand from his boss brought back the memories.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for about five and a half hours before awarding Bachmann $498,280 in actual damages and an identical amount in punitive damages. Jurors awarded his wife, Blanche, $200,000 for damage to the couple’s marriage.

Lawyers for the archdiocese said an appeal is likely and that they were particularly upset by the jury’s decision to award Bachmann punitive damages.

Juror Elvery Colquitt said the church’s decision to allow Gummersbach to remain a priest after questions arose about his conduct concerned her.

“By keeping him around children — I thought that was very wrong,” Colquitt said.

Although jury awards are rare, in 1997, the Dallas diocese was ordered to pay $119.6 million in damages against 11 victims. Last July, the diocese settled with nine of the victims for a total of $23.4 million.

Davidson County, Tenn., prosecutors have subpoenaed church personnel records of McKeown and a second former priest, according to Fr. David Perkin of the Nashville diocese. McKeown, 54, was arrested in January and charged with four counts of rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery.

The diocese received a call from an adult parishioner who claimed he was abused by McKeown and the second priest, Perkin said. Prosecutors would not identify the man, and no charges have been filed against the second priest.

National Catholic Reporter, March 19, 1999