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  Priest Confesses His Sin to Church Rev. Allen Gets Ovation, Will Stay on As Pastor

By Maureen Hayden, Courier & Press staff writer 464-7433 or maureenh@evansville.net
Evansville Courier & Press
May 6, 2002

The Rev. Michael Allen confessed his sins Sunday evening in front of hundreds of parishioners gathered in St. Peter Catholic Church, perched high on the hill above this small town.

By the time he was done, there was little doubt they'd granted him their own kind of absolution.

Responding to a dramatic announcement by Evansville Diocese Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger that Allen would remain their pastor, despite revelations of sexual misconduct with a 16-year-old boy more than 20 years ago, the congregation rose in applause. They later voiced their unwavering support for the 57-year-old priest.

"I wish I could undo the hurt I've caused," said Allen to a crowded church. "I know I can't undo the harm."

More than 400 parishioners filled the pews in the cross-shaped church after learning Sunday morning that Gettelfinger had called a parishwide meeting to respond to a story, published in the Sunday Courier & Press, that Allen had once been involved in a sexual relationship with the teen.

"My intent is for Father Mike Allen to remain here as your pastor," said Gettelfinger. The announcement was followed by a standing ovation and shouts of approval.

Earlier in the evening, Allen read an emotional statement, lasting about five minutes, that revealed what he called sin, something he said he'd been hiding for too long.

He admitted that he'd initiated a sexual relationship in 1976 with a 16-year-old boy who had been hospitalized for depression after the death of his father. The relationship lasted for more than a year.

Allen said he'd initially reached out to the youth, believing that "I was honestly trying to help him."

But it went further, Allen said.

"I crossed over the line," Allen said. "I developed an inappropriate relationship with him. It was sexual in nature."

Allen said he knew that the relationship was wrong, but did not seek counseling until he was forced to in 1993, after Gettelfinger confronted him. Gettelfinger learned of the relationship after the diocese was contacted by David Prunty, who revealed he was the youth Allen had been involved with.

Allen told the congregation that he went into a treatment program "for inappropriate sexual behavior and a violation of professional misconduct." He spent two years in therapy.

He also said that the relationship was the only one he'd had. "There was only this one inappropriate relationship," he said. "Although I did this harm and cannot undo it, it does not reflect who I am today."

Allen said he prayed no one would ever find out.

"I prayed that what I did 27 years ago would not become public. I lived in fear that it would."

Allen also asked the congregation to "pray for the young man and his family. I apologize for the hurt I have caused them."

Gettelfinger called the Sunday evening meeting, he said, to explain why he had kept secret his knowledge of Allen's misconduct and his decision to send Allen into a treatment program for sexual offenders. Allen was returned to active ministry with the consent of his therapists and on the condition that he have no contact with minors.

"You must know that I would never do anything, ever, to put your children or you in harm's way," said Gettelfinger, who learned of the relationship in 1993.

Gettelfinger said he was confident that Allen was both remorseful and committed to remaining celibate when he was returned to active ministry, first at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, then at St. Theresa and St. Joseph in Evansville. He became pastor at the Celestine church last year.

Describing the proposed "one-strike-and-you're-out" policy being considered by Catholic bishops and cardinals responding to a nationwide sex scandal in the church, Gettelfinger said he disagreed with that policy.

"I don't subscribe to that," said Gettelfinger. "There are no throwaway priests."

Gettelfinger had opened the meeting with a prayer, taken from Scripture. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope," the bishop read from the passage in 1 Peter 3:15-18. "But do it with reverence, keeping your conscience clear so that when you are maligned, those who defame your conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame."

He told the congregation not to see the newspaper story as "an attack of our faith" but instead as an opportunity to talk about the current scandal.

"See it as an opportunity where light gives us the chance to dispel the darkness."

 
 

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