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  Bishop Says Rules Violated by Priest

By Dave Hosick
Evansville Courier & Press
May 13, 2002

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville said Sunday he first learned about a month ago that a priest restricted from dealing directly with children violated those rules by having private counseling sessions with students.

In 1990, Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger restricted the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer from living alone and also prohibited him from having a youth ministry. Those restrictions came after Gettelfinger learned Kurzendoerfer had a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy more than 20 years ago.

Kurzendoerfer was temporarily removed from parish service so he could receive counseling and treatment. He most recently served as an associate pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Haubstadt, Ind. Kurzendoerfer has been sent by the diocese to a facility in St. Louis. On May 5, he did not show up at the Haubstadt church, and the pastor there, the Rev. Francis Schroering, told the congregation that Kurzendoerfer had been sent for "assessment." On that day, the Courier & Press published a front-page story about Kurzendoerfer and his relationship with the teen-ager.

Gettelfinger said he had planned to remove Kurzendoerfer from parish service and send him for assessment.

"The story accelerated that process," the bishop said in a Sunday interview.

He learned that Kurzendoerfer was having private counseling sessions with some of the school's students at Sts. Peter and Paul. Some were removed from class and counseled up to three times a week, usually in the cafeteria, music room or library.

"Because we had an indication that he may have been violating those particular procedures, we wanted to have him reviewed," Gettelfinger said.

The parents of two 11-year-old students have said their sons were both counseled individually by Kurzendoerfer in recent months. The parents were never told of the priest's restrictions, and they told the newspaper they felt betrayed by the diocese and the school for not disclosing his past.

The school principal also was not aware of the restrictions on Kurzendoerfer, the diocese has said.

"There were indications that he had been in touch with teen-agers one on one, and I confronted him with that," Gettelfinger said. "That prompted my decision to review his program before there was a consideration for him for reassignment (to a different parish)."

Kurzendoerfer had contact with teen-agers involved in the Teens Encounter Christ youth group, the bishop said. He was not one of the leaders in that program, but he did participate.

Gettelfinger said Kurzendoerfer "corroborated what we learned" when he was confronted about the counseling sessions.

Schroering, who as pastor of the church was Kurzendoerfer's supervisor, said the priest was only restricted from contact with junior high and high school students, ages 12 and above. The sessions with the 11-year-old boys were not in violation of his restrictions, Schroering said. He said he did not have any complaints about Kurzendoerfer's service with the church or its school.

The diocese should learn within a week of the results of Kurzendoerfer's assessment, at which point the diocese will determine an appropriate course of actions, Gettelfinger said. Those results will be made public.

"The people, both in Sts. Peter and Paul and in Haubstadt and Princeton, have a right to know that, while he has not violated anybody, there were transgressions of those procedures," Gettelfinger said.

 
 

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