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  Catholic Report on Sex Abuse Released

By Mark Wilson mwilson@evansville.net
Courier & Press [Kentucky]
December 19, 2003

In the 60-year history of the Evansville Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, 15 priests have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

More than two months ahead of the scheduled release of the Roman Catholic Church's national report about priest sex abuse, the Evansville Diocese is voluntarily releasing that and other information in its own report, as are many other dioceses around the nation.

The information was submitted earlier this year for a national survey on sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church. It is being posted on the diocese's official Web site (www.evansville-diocese.org) and included in the latest issue of its newsletter, The Message, which is being mailed out to 7,000 homes in a 13-county area of Southwestern Indiana. Those homes could begin receiving the newsletter as early as today.

Since 1944, according to the report, four priests in the Evansville diocese have been removed after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Three others have been found to be innocent.

In all, 22 people have made allegations against 15 priests, eight of whom were deceased. Of those allegations, 14 were in regard to the dead priests. A total of $264,080 has been spent on counseling, legal services and other abuse-related expenditures since the diocese was established.

"We hope that the release of this information will demonstrate our accountability to the Catholic community and to the community at large, and that having put all this out in the open we can move ahead," said Paul Leingang, diocesan spokesman. "The whole point of this is to protect children and young people. As painful as this is to acknowledge, by doing so we hope to eradicate the possibility of causing such pain for young people in the future."

He said the Evansville information will be included as part of a report that is expected to be released Feb. 27 by the National Review Board. The board is made up of lay Catholics appointed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to investigate a sex abuse scandal that broke two years ago, leading to the resignations or suspensions of more than 300 priests, including those in the Evansville Diocese.

Those priests included the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer and the Rev. Michael Allen, who were removed last year after it was revealed they had been returned to active ministry after admitting to sexual abuse of minors.

Also last summer, that dioceses reported that the late Rev. Joseph Clauss, a longtime diocesan priest, had been institutionalized since 1990 after repeated allegations that he sexually abused children. A fourth priest, the Rev. Richard J. Wildeman, left the ministry on his own after admitting to sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old girl more than 20 years ago. Three other diocesan priests were accused but later cleared of allegations of abuse, Leingang said.

The release of the report in The Message is accompanied by a column written by Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger in which he wrote that "no apology from me the bishop can repair or replace the 'innocence lost' because a priest of this diocese failed by sexually abusing any young person entrusted to his pastoral care." Gettelfinger goes on to write emphatically that he is sorry. "I apologize to all those who have ever been violated by priests of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville or indeed by any other priest," he wrote. "I pledge an ongoing outreach to victims by providing counseling knowing that 'innocence lost' can never be restored."

Such counseling, Leingang pledged, is of the abused person's choosing and not of the church.

 
 

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