Priest says archdiocese offered him $10K to leave clergy

Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis offered to give a priest who had been convicted of sexual misconduct $10,000 in exchange for leaving the priesthood, according to a court filing by the priest.

The Rev. John Bussmann made the allegation in a claim submitted Monday as part of the archdiocese's bankruptcy case. He said the archdiocese owes him $680,365 in unpaid salary, living expenses and other support.

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Bussmann, 61, refused the archdiocese's $10,000 offer to leave the priesthood, according to a supplemental document he filed with the claim. "Because Fr. Bussmann considers his vocation a valid calling from Almighty God, he cannot in conscience 'sell' his priesthood for any amount of money," it said.

Bussmann's filing came on the final day for creditors to file claims against the archdiocese as part of bankruptcy proceedings. At least 342 alleged clergy sex abuse victims had filed claims as of Monday afternoon, according to victims' attorney Mike Finnegan. At least two other priests accused of sexual misconduct have also filed claims, as have many of the archdiocese's parishes.

In the next step of the bankruptcy process, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, insurers and creditors' committees will evaluate the claims to determine whether they are valid. A judge has ordered the archdiocese into mediation with insurers and creditors' committees to create a plan for paying creditors. The final reorganization plan will likely need to be approved by a judge.

The process could take months, and if the archdiocese, creditors and insurers can't agree on a plan, it could take even longer. In Wisconsin, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has yet to reach an agreement in its four-and-a-half-year-old bankruptcy case.

Archdiocese lawyer Charles Rogers declined to comment on Bussmann's filing.

"Hundreds of proofs of claims have been recently filed in US Bankruptcy Court," Rogers said in a written statement to MPR News. "We have not yet reviewed all of them and cannot comment on any particular claim at this time."

Bussmann did not respond to an interview request, and his attorney, Demetri Lametti, had no immediate comment.

In 2005, a jury convicted Bussmann of two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for having sex with women under his pastoral care. Bussmann appealed and received a new trial that ended with jurors convicting him of one count and acquitting him of the other. Bussmann admitted he had sex with at least one of the women, but argued that it wasn't illegal because it didn't happen during a private counseling session, according to a summary of the case by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which upheld the second jury's conviction in 2009.

Priests can request to leave the priesthood through a process known as laicization. That decision is supposed to be voluntary. The Vatican can also remove abusive priests from the clergy through a church judicial process.

In the filing, Bussmann claimed the $10,000 deal was offered if he agreed to "forfeit his priestly vocation, make no more claims against the Archdiocese, and seek to be laicized (returned to non-priestly status as a lay person)."

The filing said the offer was made in 2015. It does not specify whether the alleged offer came from current administrator Archbishop Bernard Hebda or his predecessor, Archbishop John Nienstedt. Hebda replaced Nienstedt in June. Bussmann said Nienstedt had previously offered to give him an $800 monthly stipend under the condition that he "file a disability claim with the Archdiocese."

"This amount, although meager, was later withdrawn by the Archbishop," the filing said.

In the filing, Bussmann also requested $3,000 a month "for material support until death."

Allegations of sexual misconduct

Bussmann has had a long and troubled history with the archdiocese. In 1981, one year after he was ordained a priest, he admitted to stealing silver from the St. Paul Seminary and selling it for $1,195, according to the archdiocese's file on Bussmann, which was released several years ago in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit.

Police investigated the theft but declined to charge Bussmann, according to a 1981 memo from then-Rev. Robert Carlson to then-Archbishop John Roach.

Carlson explained that "the police made it clear without coming out and saying it that they were willing to let the Church take care of their own. The Captain of the Robbery division and the other two officers were all Catholic and did not want to drag John Bussman [sic] into this if there was a way out. It was decided that it was in the Church's best interest to handle this situation in a confidential manner."

In 1986, Bussmann was in trouble again — this time for "possible scandalous behavior with a married woman," according to a Sept. 5, 1986, letter from Roach to Bussmann.

Roach responded by suspending Bussmann from ministry and ordering him to receive a psychological evaluation. In an interview with a mental health clinician, Bussmann admitted to having a sexual relationship with two female parishioners, according to a 1986 mental health evaluation. He told a clinician that he felt "wrong, bored, and a bit used."

In the years that followed, Roach repeatedly refused to allow Bussmann to return to ministry, according to the archdiocese's files. Bussmann demanded that he be reinstated, and he accused Roach of not following the church's formal process on removing priests.

In 1991, Roach wrote a letter to his vicar general, the Rev. Kevin McDonough, confirming that he would not allow Bussmann to serve as a priest.

"I realize that we run some risks here," Roach wrote, "but I can't see allowing him [to] come back into ministry."

Roach's replacement, Archbishop Harry Flynn, disagreed with Roach's decision. In about 2001, Flynn agreed to assign Bussmann to St. Walburga in Hassan, Minn., and St. Martin in Rogers, Minn. In 2004, Hennepin County prosecutors charged Bussmann with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexual contact with women allegedly under his pastoral case.

Bussmann was convicted of both counts, but one of the counts was later overturned.

In the count that was upheld, prosecutors said Bussmann had initiated a sexual relationship with a woman whose mother had recently died. Bussmann told the woman that he had "heard her deceased mother talking to him through prayer saying that she wanted them together," it said.

Bussmann's filing in the bankruptcy case does not mention his conviction or the other allegations of theft and sexual misconduct. Instead, Bussmann noted that he was sent to a clergy treatment center in New Mexico in 1986, but claimed it was "a result of a dispute with the priest in control of his parish at the time."

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