Former attorney Gregory J. Guggemos took a sip from his very hot coffee, and thought for a moment about how to sum up the changes in his psyche in the two weeks since he went public with his accusation against a now-deceased priest he said molested him when Guggemos was just five years old.
“I can now just sit and look at the sky and let my mind go blank,” Guggemos said. “I can just relax.” And he can look forward to starting work which will help him fulfill what he says is his best and highest purpose in life. And he can do it without fear, having already faced what he thought was the worst thing that ever happened to him.
Before the memory of the alleged abuse surfaced, after being suppressed in the recesses of Guggemos’ mind for more than 50 years, by all measures he knew of, life was good.
He had, and still has, a wonderful marriage to his high school sweetheart Mary, and he’s learned to live by two rules: make her laugh every day, and keep learning something new about each other.
He had a successful private practice, which he was able to leave, in order to take his dream job working for a long-time client. He had a good salary, and was able to work a sane work week, and he and the firm agreed he would work for five years, then retire when Guggemos was 65.
He has two successful and happy grown sons, and a lovely home in Northern Michigan, near a golf course where Guggemos and his wife love to socialize and hit the links.
But when the memory of the alleged abuse surfaced, Guggemos admits he came unraveled. He had a couple of episodes where he was so panicked and distraught his wife had to take him to the hospital.
He couldn’t focus on his work. He had to leave his job because he felt he could no longer represent his employer the way the company deserved. He ultimately went to inactive status in the State Bar of Michigan, knowing that he couldn’t perform the work he had loved doing for more than 30 years.
After being told by three lawyers that he couldn’t pursue a case against the diocese, because Michigan’s statute of limitations on claims of sexual abuse had long since past, Guggemos’ longtime friend and professional peer David Mittlemanof Church Wyble PC agreed to work for Guggemos anyway, saying that he deserved for the sake of healing even a Quixotic pursuit of a cases against the priest.
Guggemos never had to file a suit. The diocese in Lansing settled with him at the end of August for $225,000, which was all Guggemos said he needed as an acknowledgment that what he remembers actually happened, and that it was wrong.
With that chapter behind him, Guggemos said he’s writing the rest of his life story now. And that story will include a tale about how he helped other people who have been hurt by priests.
He said he’s going to work with SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, to open a Lansing chapter of the nationwide group. It’s his plan to work with the victims of clergy abuse, and Mary would work with the spouses and loved ones of those who have been injured.
“I thought I already had a great life and my dream job,” Guggemos said. “But this feels like what I’m supposed to do with my life. This feels like my highest and best use.”