Sadly Familiar Tale: Brothers Say Priest Molested Them

By Carol Eisenberg
Long Island (NY) Newsday
March 18, 2002

To this day, Matthew Maurer breaks into a cold sweat as he recalls that Saturday afternoon when he ducked into the deserted faculty lounge at St. Rose of Lima school in Massapequa to grab a soda.

Tired and thirsty after his routine of dry-mopping classrooms, the 15-year-old was startled by a clap on the shoulder. He turned from the vending machine to see the Rev. Peter Duvelsdorf behind him. Maurer no longer recalls what the middle-aged cleric said. But he does remember how the friendly clap progressed to a massage and, then, to something he had no words for, when the priest's hand slid down his back, and into his pants.

"As this whole thing transpired, I remember just staring at the trademark R on this old red coke machine, just trying to disassociate myself from what was going on," said Maurer, now a 39-year-old Navy lieutenant. "I kind of thought to myself, 'this is wrong. I don't like this. But how do I stop it?' I mean, he was a priest."

It would take three or four more incidents for Maurer to find his voice and end the priest's advances. And it would be months more before he told his parents, and learned that his older brother, Daniel, had had similar encounters with the same priest.

[Photo captions: Matthew Maurer, 39, says he was sexually abused by a priest at a parish in Massapequa when he was 15. The Rev. Peter Duvelsdorf.]

"We didn't talk about it for a long time because we had been raised to believe that whatever a priest said was the law," said Dan Maurer, now a 41-year-old New York City firefighter who lives in Queens. "They were to be respected and listened to."

At a time when revelations about clergy sex abuse are pouring out of parishes across America, Matt and Dan Maurer's accusations are sadly familiar.

For the Maurers, the priest's advances were only the first betrayal. For 20 years, the family watched with growing alarm as Duvelsdorf was shuttled from one assignment to another where he continued to have contact with children. Even after a Florida judge ruled in 1998 that Duvelsdorf must have no contact with children as part of the terms of his probation on charges that he exposed himself in a park, the priest was slated to return to Long Island as chaplain at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, according to the family and church sources.

That appointment never happened after the family threatened to go public with their story, said the boys' mother, Bernadette Maurer.

"In the beginning, I was angry just at this one man," said Bernadette Maurer, 68. "But over the years, that slowly turned to anger at the diocese. We learned that they let this priest go off to one parish after another, and then to Florida. No one was doing anything to keep him from doing whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted.

"Meanwhile, I never even got a simple acknowledgment, let alone an apology from the diocese. It was as if they could care less about what happened to my boys, or to me and my husband. Instead, up went the rug and they pushed everything under it. And there are a lot of lumps in that rug."

Duvelsdorf, now 71 and living in a diocesan residence for retired priests, refused to comment when reached by telephone this weekend. His former attorney in Fort Pierce, Fla., Jeffrey Garland, did not return calls.

Officials of the Diocese of Rockville Centre said they would not discuss allegations against any specific priest.

"Father Peter," as the kids at St. Rose of Lima called him back in the late 1970s, was once a popular and well-regarded priest.

Known for his dark cardigans and no-nonsense manner, the Long Island-born cleric was thought to have a special knack for working with kids, the family said. When the two oldest of the Maurers' five children began shoveling snow, mowing lawns and cleaning up around the parish, he took them under his wing. He bought them dinner at a seaside restaurant in Island Park and, with their parents' permission, took them to Florida on a tour of Disney World, Busch Gardens and the Kennedy Space Center. It was just the two boys and him.

"Nothing happened in Florida," says Matt Maurer, now chief engineer on the USS Anchorage, stationed in San Diego. "Looking back on it now with my 39-year-old mind, I could say that it was a total seduction scene ... But it started innocently. Everything was very, very gradual."

The boys' parents were appreciative of the attention the priest paid them. So when Bernadette Maurer heard in early 1978 that Duvelsdorf would be transferred soon to another parish, she was crestfallen. She told the boys at dinner after Saturday Mass that she planned to buy him a sweater from the two of them "because he had been so good to them."

Her son, Matt, generally a quiet kid, went ballistic.

"It was like something burst in him," Bernadette Maurer recalls. "He jumped up from the table and shouted, 'No way!"

When the teenager continued his rant with a disparaging comment about the priest's sexuality, his father told him to sit back down, then ordered the younger children out of the room. With his parents' and older brother's eyes fixed on him, Matt told them for the first time how the priest had molested him. In the school library. In the faculty lounge. In the big supply closet in the nurse's office. In the sacristy of the church. And, finally, in the priest's room in the rectory.

When he finished, 17-year-old Dan Maurer said quietly that the same thing had happened to him.

Henry and Bernadette Maurer were shaken to the core. "It was devastating, and then when his brother joined in, it was twice as bad," Bernadette Maurer said.

Still, she said neither she nor her husband thought to contact the police, nor did anyone suggest it to them at that time, or since. They trusted the church and had no doubt that the men who ran it would do the right thing.

The first call they made that night was to Henry's brother, a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn. At his instruction, they called their pastor, the Rev. Ronald Barry, who promised he would take care of it. He said the church would pay for counseling for the boys if they wanted it.

Within two days of the conversation, Duvelsdorf was gone from their parish.

Afterward, Matt Maurer went to a counselor once. Dan Maurer wanted nothing to do with one. More than two decades later, both say they were haunted by guilt, humiliation and, most of all, a sense that it was somehow their fault.

"I hated gym class," Matt Maurer said. "I was always afraid of going into a locker room because I was afraid I might be gay. I thought that maybe this guy had done this because he had seen something in me."

His brother, Dan, said he was so ashamed of what had happened that, until now, he told no one outside the family.

"I feel guilty that I let it happen in the first place," he said, nervously strumming his large fingers on a countertop at a Queens diner. "And I feel even more guilty that I didn't say anything when it first happened, because maybe if I had I would have saved my brother."

For a time after Duvelsdorf disappeared, the Maurers' routines returned to normal. The boys continued to work at the parish, getting a raise from $2 to $2.50 an hour right afterward. The parents continued to be active in their parish.

"I guess it was out of sight, out of mind," Bernadette Maurer said. "We figured it was being taken care of."

Over the years, they began to hear disturbing reports. Contrary to what they had expected, they learned that after leaving St. Rose of Lima, Duvelsdorf had gone immediately to another parish, Christ the King in Commack, just as had been planned before the boys' revelations.

From there, he moved to St. Patrick parish in Huntington in the early 1980s, and then to Holy Family in Hicksville in 1986.

When Bernadette Maurer saw a 1988 item in The Long Island Catholic that Duvelsdorf would become pastor at Holy Family, she called Matt, who had enlisted in the Navy several years earlier. He was beside himself.

"I made a special visit home because I wanted to try to have them [the diocese] change their minds," Matt Maurer recalls.

He said he met with an auxiliary bishop, though he can't remember which one.

"I told him I have a problem with this," he recalled. "You have the record: You know what this man did to me and my brother. I've been in the Navy for nine years, and I can tell you the Navy doesn't promote someone to be the captain of the ship who has this stuff in his background."

The auxiliary bishop was not persuaded, according to Maurer's account. He told him Duvelsdorf had been counseled and was doing a good job at Holy Family.

Maurer lost his temper. "I said I would never set foot in the Catholic church again. And I haven't, except to attend funerals and weddings of people I love."

By that time, Matt Maurer said he came to a different understanding of what had happened. "I realized there was nothing special about my brother and me other than the fact that we were available," he said.

"And I swore to myself that I'd do anything I could so that this priest was never allowed to be in a position to abuse others."

After two years as pastor at Holy Family, Duvelsdorf left the diocese, according to the diocesan directory of priests. He surfaced in the early 1990s in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Fla.

"Peter Duvelsdorf came here with the permission of his bishop to serve in this diocese and had two separate assignments as what was called an extern priest - or a priest who still belongs to another diocese but is here temporarily," said Lorraine Sabatella, a chancellor at the Diocese of Palm Beach. "One was at Holy Cross Church in Vero Beach. The other was at St. Paul of the Cross in North Palm Beach."

Sabatella said she had no explanation for the transfer.

When the Maurer family traveled to Tampa in early 1998 to celebrate the commissioning of Matt Maurer's ship, the USS Mahan, they were stunned to hear the latest installment of the priest's career. A friend there supplied a clipping from a local newspaper detailing Duvelsdorf's arrest near Port St. Lucie for exposing himself and masturbating in a park.

For Maurer, the clipping brought up all the old emotions. He told his mother he had to come home to deal with the issue once and for all, and he set up another appointment, this time to see Msgr. Alan Placa, a vice chancellor at the diocese.

"I wanted to find out whether or not he was back in Long Island after this," Maurer said, "and I wanted to make sure they knew that his problems were ongoing."

Bernadette Maurer, who accompanied her son, said he told Placa his story from beginning to end, and the memories still had the power to reduce him to tears.

The Maurers recall that Placa acknowledged that Duvelsdorf had problems and that he had received treatment for them. Placa also offered to pay the bills if Maurer chose to get counseling. Maurer said that he would like that, and he gave Placa his number in Maine.

"He said he would arrange it, and then I never heard anything back," Maurer said. "It felt like I had gone through it all over again. Once again, they put their hand out, and you say, 'thank you' ... and then you never hear from them."

Placa did not return calls seeking comment.

The biggest shock, as far as Bernadette Maurer was concerned, came about two years ago when she heard from a church source that Duvelsdorf was going to be named chaplain at St. Charles Hospital. "This time," she said, "I went ballistic. I said, 'that's it. Enough of this B.S.' ... I asked my pastor to make an appointment with someone at the chancery."

When she sat down at the chancery with Msgr. Francis Caldwell, director of priest personnel, she told him she thought the assignment was terribly inappropriate.

"Cured or not cured," she recalls saying, "I don't want anybody else to be victimized by him."

At which point, Maurer says, Caldwell asked: "'What would you like us to do with him, Mrs. Maurer?'"

"Defrock him, Father," she says she answered.

"'That's not possible,'" she remembers him saying. "'Once a priest, always a priest.'"

An irate Maurer warned Caldwell that if the appointment went through, she would go public with her story. Caldwell did not return calls seeking comment.

Some time later, Maurer said she was elated to read in the Long Island Catholic that Duvelsdorf had retired.

She has also been elated to hear how the scandal surrounding the cover-up of a pedophile priest in Boston "has finally opened a book that's been closed for too long. Maybe now, things will change."

Matt and Dan Maurer have also been fortified by those revelations. Although he says he knows that the statute of limitations has long since expired, Matt has e-mailed letters detailing his allegations to the Nassau district attorney and the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

"I would like to see the diocese I grew up in and believed in as a child go public with the records on these cases," he wrote March 5 to Bishop William Murphy, who leads the diocese. "Please, as a Catholic man who wants to believe in his church, can I see the church of my youth do right by me?"

A few days later, Murphy's secretary responded that the bishop "extends to you his sorrow, his regrets and his prayers.

"The Bishop is grateful that you have written," the e-mail continued. "The diocese repeats its offer to assist you in any way it can regarding the suffering you have undergone. The person in question is retired, living in a diocesan facility, and is not involved in any public ministry - nor will he be."

It was an acknowledgment, but after 24 years, it brought little comfort.

It felt "like a form letter," said Matt Maurer, with disgust in his voice.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.