Disclosure Was Way to Counter Praise for Priest
By Diane Suchetka
Let's go for a ride, he'd tell the boy.
The two of them, dressed now, would climb into the priest's Hudson Hornet and drive 10 or 20 or 50 miles to another parish. Along the way, the priest, Father William Kuder, would tell the boy what to do and say.
Kuder would pull the sedan up, a block or so from a different priest's house, and park. Nervous, the boy would get out and walk up the steps and do just what Kuder had told him to do.
I need to go to confession, he'd tell the priest at the rectory door. Often it was a priest he had never seen before.
Inside, in a hallway or a living room, the boy would begin.
"Bless me father, for I have sinned.
"I've had sex with a priest."
Almost always, the penance was the same: three Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition - the same penance a boy might get for telling a fib.
That is how Neal Evans, that little boy, remembers life in Asheville back in 1952 when he was 9.
He's 59 now. And life is not easy.
Evans gambles. Sometimes he goes on drinking binges.
He is on disability for multiple sclerosis and on medication for ulcerative colitis.
"And I certainly, at this point in my life, have no faith," he says.
He takes two kinds of medication for depression, an illness his therapist says comes from the four years of abuse that ended when he turned 13 and moved to Pennsylvania to attend seminary.
"I don't know how they couldn't do something. I don't understand it," Evans says of all those priests who heard his confession during those years.
"And all of us kids did this. He would haul us around. He must have spent all of his time on the road."
Evans is talking about other boys Kuder abused, boys who waited until they were men to tell Evans their stories.
They waited until 1995. That year, Evans was the first to go public about why Kuder spent so much time with young boys.
Two years before, Evans' sister had attended a prayer service at the historic Basilica of St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville to honor those who had made significant contributions to the church. There on a list of those being recognized for their "dedication to the word of God," was Evans' deceased father. A few lines later was the name of Father William Kuder.
That was too much for Evans.
With encouragement from his therapist, he sat down and wrote a letter to the bishop and told him all about the abuse from Father Kuder, who had died in 1960.
"I wanted it to be understood that this guy wasn't the great guy that everybody was saying he was," Evans says now. "I wanted disclosure."
In 1995, he persuaded Bishop William Curlin, head of the diocese that covers Western North Carolina, including Charlotte, to come to Asheville and apologize to the congregation at St. Joan of Arc, where Kuder had served.
Evans, who was not a regular attendee, showed up that day. And others, surmising he was one of the boys Kuder abused, began telling him how the priest had abused them too.
"I assure you that you were innocent of all sin," the bishop told the victims in the congregation that day.
"You were a child who was abused and molested by a man who hid behind his priesthood and took advantage of it to use you for his personal pleasure."
They were words Evans had written.
And they put an end to the decades he had spent thinking it had happened only to him. He's heard from 10 others. So far. One called just a month ago.
"They say, in the papers, that these are old things, that they happened years ago," Evans says now, back in Asheville, where he lives with the woman he married 37 years ago.
"But I'm of the opinion that the young people aren't talking yet, that they'll be talking in 20 or 30 years. It's pretty hard when you're a kid."
For one thing, there are the threats.
"And there is this thing of secrecy that the priest instills in you - let's just make it our little secret."
In Evans' case, Father Kuder told him it would be a sin to tell what happened, that it would break the seal of confession. He said Evans would be condemned, that he would go to hell, if he told.
And that's what Neal Evans lived with all those years, the years after he left the seminary at 17, then married and raised his son and two daughters, the years he saw what he calls the daymares - flashbacks to those afternoons in Kuder's bedroom in the rectory at St. Joan of Arc.
There was another reason Evans would not tell. His parents loved Father Kuder, were thrilled that he was paying so much attention to their son. Evans' father proudly told the story of carrying Father Kuder, so sick with cancer he could not walk, down the rectory stairs on his back so the priest could say his final Mass.
What Evans' father never knew was that he carried Kuder down from the bedroom where the priest had molested his son.
Evans is telling his story again now because he wants others to know that they can get over this; they can make their lives better.
His advice to you, if you've been abused:
"Talk to somebody, anybody. Parents, brothers and sisters. Tell an older sibling or a teacher in school - if it's not connected to that teacher."
He knows it will hurt. He calls the day he came forward wrenching.
"It may well have been the most difficult thing I've ever done," he says.
But he also knows this: "When you cover this up, you stifle yourself."
Diane Suchetka: (704) 358-5073; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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