CROOKSTON, Minn. -- Catholic diocese records that were previously sealed show a priest with a history of sexually abusing young girls served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Crookston likely in the 1950s.
The Rev. Francis Schenk, former bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Duluth, wrote several letters in 1960 and 1961 stating the Rev. Charles Gormly, who died in 1968, had a history of molesting girls and had been a priest in the Crookston diocese. The Duluth diocese admitted last December the allegations against Gormly are credible.
The documents surfaced in connection with a civil lawsuit levelled by Bill Weis, a clergy abuse victim who has been public about the abuse, against the Duluth diocese. In the case, a Ramsey County, Minn., judge ordered the Duluth diocese to divulge records documenting clergy sex abuse before 1978, said Mike Finnegan, an attorney with Jeff Anderson and Associates, a St. Paul-based law firm renowned for litigating cases involving clergy sex abuse.
The judge ordered the documents sealed, but during Weis’ two-week trial in late October and November, attorneys entered the documents into evidence and, consequently, they became public, Finnegan said.
“Until these documents came out, we weren’t able to say that he had been in (the Diocese of) Crookston or that he had offended in (the Diocese of) Crookston,” Finnegan said.
In a 1961 letter, Schenk, a former bishop of the Duluth diocese, wrote Gormly had a sexual problem which “prompts him to molest small girls” and that the “same pattern showed up” in the Crookston diocese, where Gormly was a priest for an unspecified length of time.
The letters do not say when Gormly was a priest in the Crookston diocese nor in which parishes he served. But Finnegan said he believed Gormly served in the Crookston diocese in the late 1950s.
Gormly was ordained a Catholic priest in 1935 in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., but left Wyoming in the mid 1940s, according to Jeff Anderson and Associates’ website.
The letters show Gormly worked under Schenk in both the Diocese of Crookston and in the Diocese of Duluth, where Schenk became bishop in 1959.
“I am quite aware that his record in Crookston was not the best,” wrote Schenk in July 1960 before transferring Gormly to Duluth. “But I would like to give him one more chance.”
Gormly had been sent to the Via Coeli Monastery in New Mexico, a treatment center for sexually abusive priests and clergymen suffering from drug or alcohol addictions.
Gormly was a priest in Duluth and Brainerd from July 1960 to June 1961.
He lived in the rectory of St. James Parish in Duluth and was an assistant priest at St. Lawrence and St. Raphael churches for less than a month in Duluth before working for 10 months at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Brainerd, Minn., according to Jeff Anderson and Associates.
He was then removed from the Brainerd church and sent to a psychiatric hospital in Milwaukee.
Quin Buchtel, who has been public about Gormly’s sexual abuse of her when she was 12 or 13 years old in Brainerd, filed a civil lawsuit against the Duluth diocese in May, alleging the diocese had been negligent in supervising Gormly and in not warning parishioners of Gormly’s prior sexual misconduct.
Finnegan did not know of any other lawsuits brought against a Catholic diocese because of Gormly.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests issued a news release Thursday urging victims of clergy sexual abuse or witnesses to it in the Crookston diocese and elsewhere to speak up.
“Kids are safer only when victims, witnesses and whistleblowers are courageous enough to act. Silence is tempting, but it only helps wrongdoers,” the release said.