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  Parents Not Told about Restrictions on Priest

By Dave Hosick
Evansville Courier & Press
May 12, 2002

Two mothers say their sons frequently received private counseling from an Evansville diocese priest who has been restricted from having direct contact with children because of a past sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy.

The Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, associate pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Haubstadt, Ind., has worked under restrictions from the Catholic Diocese of Evansville since Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger said he learned in 1990 of a sexual relationship Kurzendoerfer had with a boy more than 20 years ago.

Kurzendoerfer received counseling and treatment before being reassigned, according to the diocese. He was ordered never to live alone and was forbidden from having a youth ministry. Gettelfinger has said Kurzendoerfer was ordered not to have direct contact with children, but the two Gibson County parents say the priest violated rules they never knew existed.

"I was in shock," said the first parent of learning of the restrictions. "I just couldn't believe it. Even though this was something he did more than 20 years ago, it should have been told to me."

"Just because it was a priest doesn't mean we don't have a right to know," the second parent said.

The parents, whose names are not being printed to protect the identities of their children, say their 11-year-old sons were frequently taken out of class by Kurzendoerfer and counseled privately either in the school cafeteria or in the music room or library. One boy was troubled by the loss of a relative and the other was dealing with separation anxiety, the parents said.

The parents have no evidence of abuse by Kurzendoerfer. However, they say they feel betrayed by the fact that they allowed the priest to counsel their children in a private setting, unaware of Kurzendoerfer's past and the conditions of his ministry.

In fact, the school's principal, Karen Stewart, was also unaware of the conditions, said Paul Leingang, spokesman for the diocese.

Leingang said Stewart "was not aware of any restrictions on his ministry." In addition, Stewart confirmed for Leingang that Kurzendoerfer did "counsel students in a one-on-one situation," Leingang said.

The counseling sessions appear to violate the restrictions placed on Kurzendoerfer, as explained Monday during a news conference by Gettelfinger. Kurzendoerfer and the Rev. Michael Allen, who admitted having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy in the 1970s, both were given counseling, reassigned to different parishes and restricted from dealing directly with children because of their past relationships, Gettelfinger said.

"We would never, ever place (children) intentionally in harm's way, whether it be working with adults, priests, bishops or anyone else," Gettelfinger said Monday.

The legal age for consent to have sex in Indiana is 16.

In an April 29 letter to Kurzendoerfer's victim, Gettelfinger wrote: "I have also placed restrictions upon his (Kurzendoerfer's) activities which are designed to prevent his interaction with children." No age was mentioned in the letter.

The Rev. Francis Schroering, pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul and Kurzendoerfer's direct supervisor, said the counseling sessions would not violate the restrictions because Kurzendoerfer was only forbidden from having direct contact with junior high and high school children, ages 12 and above. Because the two students were 11, the sessions would not be a violation, Schroering said.

That argument does not satisfy the two parents, one from Haubstadt and the other from Fort Branch, Ind.

The parents aren't suggesting that Kurzendoerfer abused their children - leaving that determination up to professionals. However, the parents say that question should never have been an issue.

The parents say Kurzendoerfer not only took the boys from class for counseling, but he also allegedly took them out to lunch or for ice cream last summer. Sometimes Kurzendoerfer and the boy, or both boys, would be gone for more than an hour, unsupervised, said the parents.

"We didn't talk about what they (Kurzendoerfer and her son) talked about," the first parent said. "We never bothered to ask because we figured it was a private thing between the priest and my son."

That was until last Sunday, when the Courier & Press published the story about the pasts of Kurzendoerfer and Allen. Having learned of the restrictions, the parents decided it was time to come forward with their story to tell other parents the rules were not being followed.

The boys now don't want to go to school. Other students who have seen Kurzendoerfer take them from class have begun teasing them, say the parents. One boy refuses to talk about the counseling sessions.

"My son said, 'This is all your fault. You put me in this position to be with Father Mark and the other kids are making fun of me,'" the second parent said. "I told him I would have never sent him to Father Mark had I known this."

The first parent said she contacted the diocese Tuesday about her concerns and was told Gettelfinger would immediately get in touch with her. By Friday, she said, she had not heard from Gettelfinger. Stewart could not be reached Friday for direct comment. Gettelfinger was out of town and not immediately available for comment.

The parents have retained Evansville attorney Rick Cory. Cory said, "The reason they saw it necessary to get an attorney is because they had not heard anything back, and they knew the information that was given (about Kurzendoerfer's restrictions) was incorrect. "When you have no contact and you hear incorrect information - and the church is using an attorney itself - they thought it was necessary to contact an attorney to help them."

Kurzendoerfer has refused to comment on abuse. Schroering said Kurzendoerfer is now in a "setting for treatment and assessment."

Schroering said he was responsible for overseeing that Kurzendoerfer followed his restrictions and avoided contact with children at the junior high and high school level. He relied "on my own eyes and ears and from speaking with him at least once a week" to ensure Kurzendoerfer was following the rules, Schroering said.

"I know that I never had any complaints," Schroering said. "Naturally, when you're in a setting with parents around a very family oriented school and all, you are going to speak to individuals, but not in a private and separate way."

Schroering would not confirm if Kurzendoerfer participated in private counseling sessions. However, Leingang said he understood that the restrictions on Kurzendoerfer were meant to prohibit such counseling.

"I believe the intent of the restrictions may have been to exclude that, but as far as applying any specifics to any of the general restrictions ... I don't know about that," he said.

Cory added, "We don't want this to appear that Father Kurzendoerfer did any inappropriate behavior, but, then again, we don't know."

The parents say they felt the church and the diocese owed it to them to be truthful about who was dealing with their children. The fact that they were kept in the dark upsets them, not only as parents, but also as Catholics.

"I do feel anger as a Catholic," the second parent said. "To me, a priest is supposed to be a vessel of God - and that's about as close as you're going to get without going (to heaven). But to hear something about a priest doing this shakes your faith."

 
 

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