Sex abuse lawsuit aims to compel Diocese of Duluth to release files

A woman sued the Diocese of Duluth on Monday as part of an effort to force the Catholic diocese to release thousands of documents on priests accused of child sexual abuse.

In the lawsuit, Quin Buchtel said the Rev. Charles Gormly sexually abused her during his tenure at St. Francis of Assisi in Brainerd, Minn. Buchtel said the abuse took place from about 1960 to 1961, when she was 12 to 13 years old.

Gormly died in 1968.

"I'm coming forward on behalf of other victims," Buchtel said at a news conference Monday. "Hopefully by seeing me come forward and using my name, they will feel comfortable to do that, also."

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The lawsuit filed in St. Louis County accuses the Duluth diocese of creating a public nuisance by not warning the public about Gormly and other priests who had been accused of abusing children. It also accuses the diocese of negligence, arguing that the diocese "knew or should have known that Gormly was a danger to children" in the 1960s.

Buchtel is seeking more than $50,000 in damages and a court order that would require the diocese to release its files on priests accused of sexually abusing children.

Buchtel's attorney, Mike Finnegan, of the St. Paul firm of Anderson and Associates, used a similar public nuisance argument in a 2013 lawsuit to force the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona to turn over thousands of documents on priests accused of child sex abuse.

But in Duluth, such efforts have failed.

Since 2013, St. Louis County Judge David Johnson has dismissed two public nuisance claims filed in separate clergy sex abuse lawsuits against the diocese, Finnegan said.

The suit filed Monday will be heard by a different judge.

Finnegan said the public nuisance claim is important because it could force the Diocese of Duluth to release detailed information about how it moved abusers from parish to parish.

"All we have right now are the names of the offenders, but that doesn't tell us anything about the dangerous practices of recycling these priests," he said.

In 2014, the Diocese of Duluth added Gormly to a public list of priests deemed "credibly accused" of child sex abuse.

Diocesan spokesperson Kyle Eller said in an email that Gormly's name was added "when we received a Notice of Claim from Ms. Buchtel's attorneys and became aware of her report of sexual abuse."

Officials at the Diocese of Duluth declined to comment on the lawsuit. Eller said Bishop Paul Sirba was not available for an interview.

Priest served in three states

Gormly's career as a priest was marked by brief assignments and sudden departures. He was ordained a priest in 1935 in the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., and served in three parishes in that diocese, according to Carol DeLois, chancellor of the Cheyenne diocese.

"We don't have anything in our files that indicate that he had an accusation against him while he was here," DeLois said.

Gormly left the Cheyenne diocese in 1944, but his file doesn't provide the reason for his departure, DeLois said. "I don't know why he left," she said.

Catholic directories list Gormly as "absent on leave" from 1947 to 1960, according to Finnegan.

It's not clear why Gormly came to the Duluth diocese in 1960 after more than a decade on leave.

He spent less than a year in Duluth, from July, 1960, to June, 1961. His first assignment, as assistant pastor to St. Lawrence Church and St. Raphael in Duluth, lasted for less than a month. He then served as an assistant pastor to St. Francis in Brainerd for 10 months.

After he left, he was listed in a Catholic directory as "absent on leave" from 1962 to 1967, Finnegan said.

Gormly was serving as an assistant pastor at St. Joseph's parish in Baraboo, Wis., when he died on Jan. 11, 1968, according to DeLois, the Cheyenne diocesan official.

"He did not return here," she said.