On the National Catholic Reporter website this week, beginning 17 July, is “a series of stories that will challenge our readers to look at the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy from several different viewpoints: from the perspective of a victim/survivor, from the perspective of a convicted offender, from the perspective of a family member of a victim, and from the perspective of professional advocates and watchdogs.”
On 20 July the story of Gilbert Gustafson, ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1977, is published in a long interview (over 5,500 words) with Luke Hansen SJ.
Gilbert Gustafson pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of a minor in 1983, and served four and a half months in jail and 10 years’ probation. Gustafson admitted to abusing four boys between 1978 and 1982. He was not criminally charged in other cases.
Two brief extracts:
In the course of the interview Gustafson speaks about coming to recognise the reality and truth of what he had done.
What are the major components of your 30 years of recovery?
I have thought a lot about it. In 2002, with the help of my therapist, I distilled the process of recovery.
There are four significant dimensions to recovery. Without them, recovery is not at all complete, even though recovery is obviously ongoing. One keeps recovering; one doesn’t recover. (It’s like addiction. You’re always going to be an alcoholic, but you’re a recovering alcoholic.) I will always be attracted to boys, ages 11 to 15, but I can be in recovery.
The first component is external accountability. In my case it happened when the archdiocese confronted me with the letter from my victim. It happened when criminal authorities convicted me and enforced prohibitions on my behavior. It happened with media attention. External accountability is absolutely critical. As I said earlier, I don’t think I would have stopped the abuse without it. If a person has a fixed attraction and true compulsion, then I don’t know how the person can stop without external accountability.
The second part is internal responsibility. I have to own the fact that this destructive behavior is my fault. Yes, I was abused, and it set things in motion. Yes, I lacked ability in communicating feelings and dealing with anger. But I did what I did, and I must be held responsible. My victims were not responsible. The responsibility is all on me. I was in the position of power. I was the one who was active. Nobody else is to blame. It’s great to learn about what caused it — the third phase — but until I say, “I stand responsible for my behavior,” I don’t think recovery can happen.
The third component is therapy or internal change, which can take years. In my case, I had to learn about how anger and sexuality had fused, and I had to undo it. My extraordinarily talented therapist had to get down to the roots — through a lot of imaginative work and deep reflection and regular meetings — and unlatch that. A big part of it was learning about penthos: how to be sad about what I did, rather than angry at myself; and how to feel authentic guilt, rather than destructive shame. It took time.
The fourth phase is the fruit. It is about incorporating what I have learned and living a transformed life: to be more truly who I am, to live out of my goodness, and to be of service to others. It is like the last part of the 12 steps. The program isn’t about your recovery alone; it is also about taking the gift into the world. Until that happens, there’s a huge element missing in the recovery process.
Perhaps also of interest is the following exchange:
In 2005, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis settled a lawsuit with Anne Bonse, who said that you abused her on multiple occasions between 1977 and 1982, when she was between the ages of 5 and 10.
I did not abuse her, and I made that clear in the settlement.
Did you abuse any girls?
No. My four victims were boys.
The other stories in this series on the NCR website could also be worthwhile reading.