9 Minnesota clergy abuse cases being settled for $1.7 million

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 6, 2009 - 4:51 PM

Thursday's announcement of a $1.7 million settlement in a sex-abuse suit against the Catholic order of the Crosiers carried a surprise ending for two plaintiffs in the case.

Fred Guenther and David Bidney already were on emotional tenterhooks as they prepared for the announcement Thursday that their sexual abuse lawsuits against a Roman Catholic religious order had been settled.

The Crosiers Fathers and Brothers, a Catholic religious order with an outpost south of Lake Mille Lacs, had agreed to pay nine plaintiffs $1.7 million in damages and reveal the names of the abusive priests.

When Guenther and Bidney -- who had been best friends in junior high school -- saw each other, the bombshell hit. They had both been abused by the same man but kept it secret for 30 years.

"We had no idea, no idea at all, none," Guenther said after the two embraced in a long hug and Bidney, who was in tears, nodded in agreement. "We didn't tell each other. I didn't tell anyone until I told a counselor in 1998."

Both men described battling emotional demons that broke up their marriages.

"I lost everything, but hiding it was the worst pain of all," Bidney said.

"The money will help with things like therapy," he said. "But without a doubt, the most important part is getting the names and the documents."

The key to the settlement was a suit filed in 2006 by Bob Skjonsby, a former Minnesotan now living in Port Orchard, Wash. Twin Cities attorney Jeff Anderson had eight other cases but was stymied because the statue of limitations on them had expired.

Skjonsby had spent 20 years as a naval officer, and the statue of limitations clock stops running while a person is in the armed forces, meaning that his case was still active. That was the legal wedge Anderson needed.

"As part of that case, we were able to do discovery," he said. "We were able to force the Crosiers to provide files of his case and all the abuse cases that were known to them."

At last, an apology

Thomas R. Carkhuff, the head of the Crosiers in the United States, issued a written statement apologizing to the victims and saying that he hopes the settlement helps the abused "move toward peace of heart and healing in their lives. We are deeply sorry for these wrongs that were committed in the past by some Crosiers and for the pain that this abuse has caused these men and their families."

The settlement names five of the perpetrators. Two of them, Gabriel Guerrero and Greg Madigan, continue as members of the order but have been removed from public ministry. The others, Gerald Funcheon (the abuser of Guenther and Bidney while at St. Odilia Catholic Church in Shoreview), Wendell Mohs (Skjonsby's abuser at Sacred Heart parish in Wahkon, Minn.) and Roger Vaughn have left the order.

"Bob is the real hero here," Anderson said of Skjonsby. "The Crosiers offered to settle his case for $1.2 million, but he refused. He insisted that they come clean about everything. That was a very courageous thing to do, a very altruistic thing."

Skjonsby, who decided to step forward after his 2-year-old son drowned, said that money was never his motivation.

"The first time I contacted Jeff [Anderson] was simply to ask if he could recommend a counselor," he said. "It took the threat of the money to get the Crosiers to come forward to resolve this issue and provide the names of the other offenders."

At the request of the victims, not all nine names involved in the case were announced Thursday. And that gave Bidney reason to worry.

"Oh, I hope it's no one else we know," he said to Guenther.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-73922

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