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  Long Wait Is over Victim Feels Relief over 27-Year Hurt

By Maureen Hayden, Courier & Press staff writer 464-7433 or maureenh@evansville.net
Evansville Courier & Press
May 7, 2002

David Prunty has been waiting a long time for the words that came Sunday evening from his former parish priest.

Words that acknowledged the damage done 27 years ago, when the man he most admired crossed over a line, moving from friendship into sexual intimacy.

"It's affirmation after all these years that what happened to me was harmful," said Prunty, now a 42-year-old social worker living in Minnesota. "Finally, I'm no longer alone."

On Sunday evening, the Rev. Michael Allen stood at the pulpit in a hushed church in the small town of Celestine, Ind., and confessed his sins.

He admitted he initiated a sexual relationship with a teen-aged boy while was associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Princeton, Ind., beginning in 1975.

"I wish I could undo the hurt I caused," said Allen. "I know I can't undo the harm."

For Prunty, the words are part of what he hopes is one of the final chapters in a long and painful story.

It's a story marked by bitter accusations and recriminations, secretive negotiations over money, and finally, forced confessions.

October 1974 : Priest comforts depressed youth

It begins in the fall of1974 when Prunty was a sophomore at Princeton (Ind.) High School.

Suffering from deep depression, grieving over the death of his father, Prunty was hospitalized at a psychiatric facility in Evansville.

According to Prunty, Allen would come to visit him often. Trusted by hospital staff and Prunty's mother, Allen was allowed to take Prunty out of the hospital for dinner or to go to high school basketball games.

It was attention Prunty craved from the young and personable priest.

"He was a needed presence in my life and I came to almost idolize the man," Prunty would later write in a detailed letter to Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger in 1993.

1975: Relationship becomes sexual

According to Prunty, the relationship changed "permanently and significantly" in the spring of 1975.

In the letter, Prunty told of how the two began playing tennis together in what Prunty describes as an isolated tennis court on property owned by a Baptist church near his home on Indiana 64 in Princeton.

Prunty said the two engaged in sexual play and would sometimes "wrestle" after tennis games. Once, he said, they were asked to leave by two preachers from the Baptist church who saw them.

Prunty said it turned from "play" into a much more intimate sexual relationship in the summer of 1975, when he accompanied Allen to The Outpost, a summer vocational camp operated by the Evansville diocese.

Prunty said for a year after, at least once a month, the two would meet again for sex, often in the parish rectories in Vincennes and Cannelburg, where Allen was staying. Prunty said he also took a weekend trip with Allen to Indianapolis, where the priest was to officiate a wedding.

"We shared a hotel room and a bed there," Prunty said in his letter to Gettelfinger.

1976: Relationship unravels

By the summer of 1976, the relationship had started to unravel.

In an interview with the Evansville Courier & Press, Prunty said Allen wanted it terminated. It was a decision that upset Prunty, who had decided by then to enter the seminary and study for the priesthood.

Prunty said by the time he arrived as a seminary student at St. Meinrad School of Theology, he had told two other priests of the relationship with Allen.

Prunty said he assumed they would notify then-Evansville Bishop Francis Shea of the relationship.

But Prunty, in his letter, said the bishop did not contact him, and no one from the bishop's office offered to discuss the matter.

Prunty also said there were "one or two occasions" during his seminary years that he and Allen had sex again.

March 22, 1993: Prunty asks the bishop for money

Prunty told Gettelfinger that he has suffered "confusion, deep shame, fear, guilt and ongoing depression" because of the relationship. And that he wanted money.

He asked for "recompense," but he didn't say how much.

August 1993: Prunty tells his story

The letter prompted Gettelfinger to set up a meeting between Prunty and the Rev. Kenneth Knapp, the vicar-general of the diocese. In the role, Knapp answered directly to Gettelfinger.

There is disagreement about what happened at the meeting.

Prunty said Knapp was "hostile" and kept asking, "How much money do you want?"

But diocesan documents concerning the meeting give a different view.

The documents say Knapp attempted to apologize to Prunty and offered to help him receive treatment.

The day after the meeting, Prunty met with an Evansville attorney. In August of 1993, the diocese received a letter from the attorney seeking $150,000 in damages.

1993: Allen sent for treatment

Although the diocese didn't respond to Prunty for a year, his letter led Gettelfinger to call Allen out of active duty with the U.S. Army in South Korea.

The letters the diocese attorney later sent to Prunty said Gettelfinger confronted Allen about the allegations. When Allen confirmed them, he was sent into a treatment program for clergy with sexual problems.

1994: Diocese attorney responds to Prunty's request for money

It was more than a year later, in November of 1994, when the response came back. There would be no damages paid, it said.

In the letter to Prunty's attorney, diocesan lawyer David Miller acknowledges the relationship Allen had with Prunty.

But he said the diocese found "no factual basis" to support Prunty's claim of harm.

Miller said Prunty had already been having "psychological and emotional struggles" before he met Allen at the age of 15, citing the death of his father, a family history of depression and Prunty's ongoing confusion about his sexual identity.

Miller also cited a letter Prunty wrote in March of 1990 to Allen. In the letter, Prunty expressed "very positive feelings and a sense of peace" toward Allen, and invited Allen to visit him in Minnesota.

The diocese not only would not pay any damages, but it warned Prunty what could happen if he proceeded with a civil lawsuit against the diocese.

Miller said the diocese and Allen would offer a "vigorous defense."

"Moreover," Miller wrote, "David should be aware that if that defense is successful, he will then be in harm's way, again by his own conduct, because he will have maliciously ended the career of a very fine man."

Merely filing a lawsuit, Miller wrote, would "destroy" Allen's career as a priest.

Prunty now says that the wording of the letter intimidated him. "I didn't know what 'in harm's way' meant," said Prunty.

In a letter Miller wrote nine years later to Prunty, he said "harm's way" only meant that Prunty would face the possibility of a lawsuit being filed against him.

November 1994: Allen returns to active ministry

Within a short time after Prunty received his letter from Miller in November of 1994, Allen was back in active ministry, as associate pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper, Ind. As a condition of his return, he was to have no contact with minors.

Gettelfinger, meanwhile, decided to keep the matter confidential.

He already had other problems with his priests. Four years earlier, when he was installed as bishop for the 90,000-member Evansville diocese, he learned of other allegations of abuse.

Among them was the allegation that the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer had been sexually involved with a 14-year-old male student. In response, Gettelfinger also ordered Kurzendoerfer into treatment. On the advice of Kurzendoerfer's therapists, Gettelfinger returned the priest to active ministry. Kurzendoerfer had the same condition placed on him as Allen: No contact with minors.

In an interview late last week with the Courier & Press, Gettelfinger explained why he didn't tell parishioners about the matters involving Allen and Kurzendoerfer. "It would undermine the effectiveness of their ministry," said Gettelfinger.

1998: Prunty writes Gettelfinger again

In May of 1998, Prunty sent an angry letter to Gettelfinger threatening to "publicly share my story and my experience with the Diocese of Evansville."

But he didn't go through with it. Again, Prunty said he felt intimidated and worried about the impact such a story would have on his mother, who still lives in the Evansville diocese.

April 2002: Prunty e-mails Gettelfinger

Last month, Prunty contacted Gettelfinger again.

Angered by the growing revelations of sex abuse in the church, and allegations that bishops had concealed knowledge of it, Prunty e- mailed Gettelfinger. He accused the bishop of ignoring his earlier complaints.

"You must respond now," wrote Prunty, "and in a manner which befits a person of your position."

Prunty demanded an immediate response. Without one, Prunty vowed "to take steps to make certain that my story is finally brought to light and addressed."

April 26, 2002: Diocese seeks agreement

What Prunty got was a letter from the diocese's lawyer. Accompanying it was a proposed confidentiality agreement.

In the letter, Miller acknowledged again the relationship between Allen and Prunty. Miller described it as "wrong, sinful and possibly criminal."

He told Prunty again that there would be no money forthcoming. "It is clear ... that you are under the impression that Bishop Gettelfinger has some reason to cause the Diocese of Evansville to purchase your silence. That is not the case."

But what Prunty's e-mail did prompt, according to Miller, was a decision by Gettelfinger to "revisit whether he should make full disclosure of the relationship between Father Allen and you."

According to the letter, Gettelfinger had decided he would disclose it publicly, unless Prunty signed the proposed confidentiality agreement.

Miller wrote of the impact of that public disclosure: "(Gettelfinger) knows, as you do, that will have a devastating consequence to Father Allen, who has spent many years since his grave and inexcusable actions with you rehabilitating himself and devoting his life to the service of others."

Instead of signing the agreement, Prunty contacted the Evansville Courier & Press.

It was time, he said, tothe silence.

May 5, 2002: A priest confesses

Confronted with details of the relationship reported in a story in the Evansville Courier & Press, Gettelfinger calls a meeting of Allen's parishioners, at St. Peter Celestine Catholic Church.

To a hushed audience, Allen confessed his sins and asked his flock to forgive his transgressions. He also asked for them to pray "for the young man and his family" who had suffered for too many years, he said.

The request was not enough for Prunty. He thinks Allen should be removed from active ministry and treated in the same fashion as any other professional who had violated the ethical standards of care.

"Every parent in every parish in the Evansville diocese must be asking themselves the same question," said Prunty. "Are my children really safe?"

 
 

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