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  Priest Accused of Abuse Served Two Area Churches

By Kathleen Chapman
Palm Beach Post [Florida]
March 23, 2002

A priest accused of sexually abusing two brothers in a Long Island Catholic school was given a clean report by a bishop in New York for a transfer to the Diocese of Palm Beach, where he spent several years at churches in Vero Beach and North Palm Beach, a spokesman for the Palm Beach diocese said Friday.

The 40-year career of Peter Duvelsdorf, 71, ended only when he was arrested for exposing himself at a park in St. Lucie County in November 1997, a pastor at his former church, St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church in North Palm Beach, said Friday. Duvelsdorf served at the church in 1996 and 1997.

As the Roman Catholic Church faces nationwide allegations that it concealed years of sexual abuse with secrecy and lies, brothers Daniel and Matthew Maurer came forward recently to publicly charge that the church brushed aside their complaints about Duvelsdorf for two decades. Matthew Maurer, now a 39-year-old lieutenant in the Navy, told Newsday that Duvelsdorf molested him several times at age 15, when he was a student at a Catholic school in Massapequa, Long Island, N.Y. When he told his parents about the abuse months later, his older brother Daniel, now a New York City firefighter, acknowledged he had a similar experience with the priest.

The boys' mother, Bernadette Maurer, told Newsday that the family confronted the Diocese of Rockville Centre with their story in 1978, asking that church officials remove the man everyone called Father Peter. The diocese offered the boys counseling but allowed Duvelsdorf to stay on as pastor of a Long Island church, according to Newsday.

Church officials in the Palm Beach diocese said they did not hear that Duvelsdorf had faced accusations in New York when he moved to Florida in 1991.

The Rockville Centre bishop filled out an evaluation on behalf of Duvelsdorf, and must not have mentioned any problems, said Palm Beach diocesan spokesman Sam Barbaro. The church requires each incoming priest to submit a Certificate of Aptitude, Barbaro said, where the bishop in the priests' former diocese must indicate if a priest had any moral behavior problems.

Barbaro said he has not gone back to check the certificate for Duvelsdorf. But if the bishop of Rockville Centre had mentioned any suspicion of sexual abuse, Barbaro said, he would not have been allowed to transfer to Florida.

Church records show that the bishop of the Rockville Centre diocese at the time was John R. McGann, who retired in 2000. The diocese did not return calls for comment Friday.

Duvelsdorf celebrated Mass and heard confessions at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach between 1991 and 1996, when he moved to St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church. Barbaro said that to his knowledge, Duvelsdorf never molested any boys in Florida.

The Rev. Arthur Venezia, the pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church, said he "did not have any clue" about Duvelsdorf's previous charges.

He said he got a phone call from police in November 1997 after Duvelsdorf was charged with the misdemeanor of indecent exposure in a park in White City. According to the police report, Duvelsdorf approached an exterminator whose car had broken down, asking if he needed help. As the exterminator waited for a tow truck, Duvelsdorf began performing a sexual act.

In February 1998, Duvelsdorf told a St. Lucie County judge he would undergo counseling and was sentenced to a year of probation, according to court records. The judge also banned him from all contact with children through his probation.

Duvelsdorf was removed from St. Paul of the Cross after his arrest, Venezia said.

"As soon as I found out there was a charge, he was advised to inform the proper authorities (with the church) and they removed him," Venezia said.

While at St. Paul, Duvelsdorf performed normal duties of the priesthood, including leading Mass, weddings, funerals and visiting the sick. His duties included nothing that would have involved being alone with children, Venezia said.

"He seemed to be able to relate to people well at Mass," he said. "He had a sense of humor."

A relative of Duvelsdorf, who lives in Port St. Lucie and asked not to be identified, said the retired priest was sorry for what he had done.

"He spent 40 years in the priesthood, and 30 years ago he made one mistake," he said. "He has regretted it ever since."

A longtime parishioner at Holy Cross said she was disappointed to hear of the charges. Father Peter had seemed so kind, she said, visiting her mother in the hospital, and volunteering as a chauffeur for a fellow priest who had grown too old to drive.

"He was a good priest," she said after attending Mass on Friday. "This makes me feel really sad."

 
 

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