Priests Linked to Teen Sex
The diocese has offered to keep the details of the alleged abuse confidential on the condition that the alleged victims sign letters of confidentiality.
[Photo captions: 1) David Prunty, right, claims that starting in 1976, as a 16 year-old-boy in Princeton, Ind., he had a sexual relationship with his parish priest. Prunty now lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Roseville with his partner of 15 years, Dennis Hayden, left, and their three dogs. Bob Gwaltney / Courier & Press 2) The Rev. Michael Allen 3) The Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer.]
The Evansville Courier & Press obtained documents sent by the diocese that says two of the men as teen-agers had sexual relations with the priests.
The documents acknowledge inappropriate activity and note that the priests have been barred from interaction with children and have entered treatment programs.
The documents identify the priests as the Rev. Michael Allen, 57, pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church in Celestine, Ind., and the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, 47, at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Haubstadt, Ind., which has an elementary school with 200 students.
Both priests, contacted by the Courier & Press, declined to comment.
Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger also acknowledged Saturday that other priests in the diocese, now deceased or retired, had been accused of sexual abuse and were sent to a treatment program. Gettelfinger declined to identify those priests.
None of the abuse allegations has been reported to law enforcement officials.
Steve Johnson, the executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney's Council, said the diocese is still obligated to report any and all incidents of abuse, no matter how old the allegations.
Gettelfinger said the diocese attorneys told him the law did not require him to report the allegations involving Allen and Kurzendoerfer.
The information about the sexual relationships that Allen and Kurzendoerfer allegedly had with teen-age boys is contained in letters sent within the last two weeks by Gettelfinger and diocesan attorney David V. Miller.
The letters accompanied proposed confidentiality agreements. In the letters to the two men, Gettelfinger and Miller separately describe the agreements, titled "Request to Maintain Privacy," as designed to prevent the allegations of abuse from being reported to prosecutors or becoming known to the public.
The two men did not sign proposed agreements, which Gettelfinger said were intended to respect the privacy of the men.
Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota attorney, represents two alleged victims. Anderson said the agreements were "immoral, unethical and probably illegal" and said he believes they were designed to intimidate the men into silence to protect the reputation of the priests and the diocese.
"This is re-victimization," said Anderson. "It's deceitful and an attempt to cover up felonious misconduct by pedophile priests."
He represents David Prunty, who once lived in Princeton, Ind., and another man who did not want his name used.
Anderson also represents hundreds of plaintiffs who have filed sex abuse lawsuits against the Catholic church. He said he will introduce the Evansville letters and proposed agreements as evidence in a federal lawsuit filed against the Roman Catholic Church in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore. That lawsuit alleges the Roman Catholic Church violated federal racketeering law by conspiring to cover up alleged abuse by priests.
Gettelfinger responded to some questions about the matter on Saturday, saying the decision not to report the allegations was initially made by previous Evansville Bishop Francis Shea. Shea retired in 1989 and died in 1994.
Gettelfinger said he learned of the incidents after he became bishop in 1989.
The incidents involving Kurzendoerfer and Allen occurred more than 20 years ago, according to the diocesan documents.
The diocese, in the documents obtained by the newspaper, acknowledge that Kurzendoerfer engaged in an "improper and wrongful physical relationship" with a 14-year-old boy at Washington Catholic High School in 1981.
Diocese documents also say that Allen disclosed a series of "homosexual encounters" with then 16-year-old Prunty, beginning in 1976.
In Indiana, the legal age of sexual consent is 16.
Prunty was a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Princeton, Ind., where Allen was associate pastor.
Because the incidents took place more than 20 years ago, Gettelfinger said he was told by attorneys that the statute of limiations had expired, that the incidents would no longer be prosecutable and therefore he had no obligation to report them.
But a legal expert disagrees.
"Every person has the duty to report child abuse, there is no exception," said Johnson, who provides legal research and training to county prosecutors in Indiana.
He said the fact that the allegations date back more than 20 years does not negate that responsibility. There is no statute of limitations for certain sexual crimes against children.
"They still have an obligation to report it," said Johnson. "Not only to find out if the victim was indeed molested and is now in needed of counseling, but also for the protection of other children who may still be harmed by the alleged perpetrator...I don't know what mindset would lead you to believe that it doesn't need to be reported."
Indiana has had mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse involving minors under the age of 16 since the early 1970s, he said.
The diocesan documents reveal a complicated story of accusations involving Kurzendoerfer and Allen.
According to diocesan documents, it was Bishop Shea who learned of the allegations against Kurzendoerfer in the early 1980s, when Kurzendoerfer was a teacher at Washington (Ind.) Catholic High School.
Shea did not report the allegations, according to the documents, at the request of the victim's parents. Shea also complied with the parents' request that Kurzendoerfer be removed from Washington Catholic High School in 1981, after the allegation arose. Kurzendoerfer was then reassigned to teach at Mater Dei High School in Evansville in 1981, and later, in 1984, at Memorial High School inEvansville.
In a letter accompanying the confidentiality agreement sent to Kurzendoerfer's alleged victim last week, Gettelfinger confirmed the relationship.
"Sometime after my ordination as Bishop of Evansville, I learned that Father Kurzendoerfer had been engaged in an improper and wrongful relationship with you," Gettelfinger wrote. "The level of his malfeasance was only aggravated by the fact that you were apparently a minor -- a teenager -- at the time of those events. If this is correct, Father Kurzendoerfer's conduct was very possibly criminal in nature."
Gettelfinger goes on to state in the letter that "the current atmosphere requires that I take whatever additional steps I believe are necessary to assure a responsible approach to these issues, both from a societal and legal point of view."
Gettelfinger then offers the victim the option of keeping the matter confidential and states that he will report the allegations to the Daviess County, Ind., prosecutor if he does not receive the signed confidentiality agreement back by May 10.
Meanwhile, the diocese's attorney said the diocese would publicly disclose details of the relationship between Prunty and Allen, if Prunty did not sign a confidentiality agreement and return it by May 3.
"If I do not receive the `REQUEST TO MAINTAIN PRIVACY' signed by you, and witnessed by another, before that deadline, the Bishop will disclose what he knows about the matter in a public forum and to appropriate civil authorities," wrote Miller in a letter dated April 26, 2002.
Prunty, 42, instead took the agreement and letter to his attorney, Jeff Anderson.
Both Anderson and Prunty characterized the agreement and a series of letters from diocesan attorney David Miller as "threatening" and "intimidating."
The letter by diocesan attorney David Miller acknowledges "a homosexual relationship" occurred between Prunty and Allen, when Prunty was a teen-ager and calls Allen's conduct "wrong, sinful and possibly criminal." But Miller states that if Prunty does not sign the confidentiality agreement, the bishop will publicly disclose the relationship.
"He (Gettelfinger) knows, as you do, that will have a devastating consequence to Father Allen, who has spent the many years since his grave and inexcusable actions with you rehabilitating himself and devoting his life to the service of others," the letter from Miller states.
Prunty said he was angered by the letter, which prompted him to go public with its contents.
Prunty said the confidentiality agreements appear to conflict with the diocese's policy, made public in late March, which encourages the reporting of allegations of abuse to the appropriate civil authorities.
"It seems like the real policy is one of cover-up and intimidation," said Prunty. "The whole culture of the church is about silence and not bringing these kinds of allegations out in the light. It's why I have to make this public."
When asked by the Courier & Press about the letters and the agreement, Gettelfinger said Prunty misinterpreted them. Gettelfinger said the agreement was intended to protect Prunty's privacy.
He said he did not intend to disclose details of the abuse publicly. Gettelfinger said "public forum" meant disclosing it to the prosecutors.
Gettelfinger also said he decided last month, after publishing the diocese's child-abuse reporting policy, that he would eventually inform the parishes where Allen and Kurzendoerfer are assigned that they had relationships with minors.
Gettelfinger said he planned to tell parishioners that the men had "violated their vows of celibacy" and that the violations took place with minors.
Gettelfinger said he had been advised by therapists who had treated Allen and Kurzendoerfer that they could return to active ministry with the condition that they had no contact with minors.
Gettelfinger said the reason why he has not informed parishioners any sooner is also based on advice he'd gotten from therapists in treatment program for clergy who are sexual offenders.
The public knowledge of the offenses, Gettelfinger said, "undermines the effectiveness of the ministry."
Gettelfinger said he changed his mind about disclosure after the onslaught of news reports about sexually abusive priests whose offenses had been kept secret by their bishops.
"We need to deal with this openly now," he said.
[Photo captions: 1) David Prunty, right, claims that starting in 1976, as a 16 year-old-boy in Princeton, Ind., he had a sexual relationship with his parish priest. Prunty now lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Roseville with his partner of 15 years, Dennis Hayden, left, and their three dogs. BOB GWALTNEY / Courier & Press 2) The Rev. Michael Allen 3) The Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer.]
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