Priest Sex-Abuse Victim Says He Shares Story to Help Others

By Dale Neal
Asheville Citizen-Times
April 23, 2002

ASHEVILLE — Neal Evans has planted himself Sunday mornings outside local Catholic churches with his signs to remind the faithful the sex scandal shaking Catholic dioceses elsewhere has happened here as well.

It happened to him growing up in Asheville during the 1950s, Evans says, when a popular priest, the Rev. William Kuder, abused him for four years.

"I thought I was the only one in the world," Evans, now 59, said Tuesday. "I've started to get a much greater picture of the abuse."

In recent weeks, Evans has followed the news about pedophiliac priests being reassigned to unsuspecting parishes in dioceses across the country. And he has wanted to let others know his story.

When Evans went to confession as a 9-year-old boy and told other priests about Kuder's sexual abuse, he was usually given a penance to say three Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition, but no support, no protection from Kuder.

"I went to a number of priests in different churches, at St. Lawrence, at Immaculate Conception in Hendersonville," said Evans. "They thought it was no big deal. There was a wink and a nod to those kind of things in those days."

Evans said the abuse lasted until he was 13 and moved to Pennsylvania to attend school. He now lives in Asheville. Father Kuder, who served at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, died in 1960. And Evans kept his story to himself for decades.

But in 1992, Evans' sister attended a prayer service at the Basilica of St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville, honoring those who had made contributions to the church. Among those recognized that day for their "dedication to the word of God" was Evans' deceased father, along with Kuder.

Evans finally felt he had to speak out about what Kuder had done to him. He wrote a letter to Bishop William Curlin of the Diocese of Charlotte, which includes Western North Carolina.

In 1995, Curlin came to St. Joan of Arc and issued a public apology for Kuder's actions, and promised that sexual abuse by priests would not be tolerated in his diocese.

Last month after the Catholic church's growing scandal made national news, Curlin had priests throughout the Charlotte Diocese read their congregations a letter in which he reiterated "zero tolerance for child sex abuse."

"Furthermore, at no time have any of our diocesan funds ever gone to another diocese for payments related to pedophile cases," Curlin wrote in the letter.

But the bishop didn't mention that money was paid in 1996 to a family in Watauga County, inside the diocese of Charlotte.

According to records in Watauga County Superior Court, the diocese in 1996 paid $77,489 to a Boone family after they complained a priest had fondled their son as a teen-ager.

A second payment of an undisclosed amount came three years later after the family filed a lawsuit charging that the priest, the Rev. Damion Lynch, had also abused the boy's twin brother.

"We have used both diocesan funds and insurance proceeds to help meet the personal needs of victims," said Joann Keane, a spokeswoman for the diocese.

Evans was outraged by that news. "The secrecy thing has got to stop. Bishops like Curlin and Cardinal Law (of Boston), what they have done is criminal. It's outrageous," he said. "I think there should be criminal prosecutions when these men have put priests with known criminal behavior in new positions."

Evans lost his Catholic faith years ago, and he has little faith that any thing will come of Pope John Paul II meeting with the American cardinals this week at the Vatican.

"That's just a P.R. sort of thing," he said. "I think it's a waste of time."

Some Catholics have been angered by Evans' solitary demonstrations outside their churches.

Others have been more understanding. At St. Eugene's, parishioners brought him coffee and a palm branch for Palm Sunday during his silent vigil.

The Rev. Francis Cancro asked the congregation to hold Evans in their prayers that morning.

Cancro, who is an expert in Catholic canon law, said Evans would not have the same experience now, making his confession to a priest.

"That would not happen today. He would be encouraged to share that information with the proper authorities," said Cancro. "The old rite was much more restrictive and there was not as much dialogue, and there was not any spiritual counseling."

The rite of penance was changed in 1973, as part of the reforms from the Vatican II council, but the seal of inviolability remains — a priest cannot divulge what is said in confession.

But Cancro said priests would certainly counsel anyone who had been sexually abused to contact police.

Evans says he's come forward with his story to help others.

"Families need to talk to the children. Children need to talk to their parents," Evans said. "If I could have talked to anyone, a teacher, my parents, a priest, maybe someone would have said something.

"I don't understand child abuse and pedophilia, but I understand even less priests, cardinals and bishops who want to cover it up."


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