Board Suggests Priest's Return

Evansville Courier & Press
September 20, 2002

The local board appointed to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Evansville diocesan priests is recommending that the Rev. Francis Schroering, 69, be "immediately" reinstated into active ministry.

The board released its recommendation Thursday, after notifying both Schroering and the two women who had accused him of sexual misconduct. The recommendation is now in the hands of Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger.

Schroering has been on administrative leave from his role as pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Haubstadt, Ind., since June, when the allegations against him became public.

The recommendation covers only one of the accusations of sexual misconduct, that of Melissa Corts, who said she was sexually assaulted by Schroering more than 40 years ago when she was a child.

Also Thursday, the board clarified its position on the Rev. Kenneth Graehler, 65, who had been on administrative leave since June, following an allegation of misconduct with a minor. He is scheduled to return to active ministry this week.

The board had recommended on Aug. 27 that Graehler remain on administrative leave and be sent for psychological evaluation and take part in a program of rehabilitation.

But board spokesman Gene Brooks said board members realized after releasing their recommendation publicly on Wednesday that it may have been misleading. Brooks said the board wanted Graehler to remain on administrative leave "until" the results of the psychological evaluation were submitted to the diocese, with a plan for rehabilitation, if appropriate.

"It was our mistake," Brooks said. Brooks said Gettelfinger had recently informed the board that Graehler had been sent for the evaluation at a psychiatric facility in St. Louis, and that results had come back. Those results were not shared with the review board.

Diocesan spokesman Paul Leingang said it was his understanding that Graehler has taken counseling .

Details of the allegation against Graehler were never made public and his accuser has not been publicly identified.

In Schroering's case, though, the names of both accusers and the details of their allegations have emerged.

Corts, who now lives in North Carolina, made her allegation public.

While the board found no "reasonable cause" to believe Schroering was guilty of the allegation, it did find reason to believe Corts was telling the truth when she said she had been sexually assaulted as a child. The board did not believe Schroering was the perpetrator.

"This decision in no way should be interpreted as fully discounting or disbelieving the information relayed to us by the accuser," the recommendation states.

"However, after an exhaustive review of all relevant statements and documentation, the weight and totality of the information strongly dictates that the recommendations made here are appropriate and just."

No elaboration

Brooks said the board decided not to elaborate on that statement in its recommendation by speculating on who may have committed the assault.

But Corts and her attorney, David Flowers, said they've both been told that diocesan officials believe the assault may have been committed by another priest living in the same rectory where Schroering resided at the time of the alleged assault. They said they were told that priest has since died.

Corts said she was told that information again Thursday, when she was informed of the recommendation to return Schroering to active ministry. Flowers said he'd been told that information by one of the diocese's lawyers earlier this summer.

Corts has said the assault occurred in the rectory of St. John the Baptist Church in Vincennes, Ind., when she was 7 years old.

Corts was angry with the review board's recommendation.

"Am I devastated? Yes. Am I surprised by the outcome? No. I've been sexually, physically, psychologically and spiritually abused by the Catholic Church. Why should I believe they wouldn't try to finish me off with an assault on justice?"

Schroering could not be reached for comment. The diocese has not revealed where Schroering has been living since he was put on administrative leave.

Leingang said Gettelfinger would have no immediate comment. Gettelfinger has been planning on making a statement on the matter in the Sept. 27 issue of the diocese's weekly newspaper, The Message.

In making its recommendation, the board did not consider the allegation of Tonya Raley, who accused Schroering of sexually assaulting her when she was 18. Brooks said the board could not consider her allegation because she was not a minor at the time of the alleged incident.

"We referred the matter back to the diocese," Brooks said. He said he did not know what action was taken. Raley could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Became public in June

The allegations against Schroering became public in June, but the review board was stymied in its efforts to gather information on the case.

Corts had refused to meet with the diocese's designated representative, Evansville psychologist Rebecca Luzio, to give her statement.

Corts insisted on giving her statement to a third party not affiliated with the Evansville diocese.

But Gettelfinger notified the board that accepting Corts' statement from an independent third party would violate the diocese's policies and procedures on handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

The board, however, agreed to deviate from the procedure.

"We wanted to get to the truth," Brooks said.

Resolved last week

The standoff was resolved last week, when Corts gave her statement to the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a Catholic priest, canon lawyer and a nationally known expert on clergy abuse.

The statement was submitted to the board earlier this week.

The board met Wednesday to consider her statement, and made a recommendation.

The recommendation was released Thursday. It states:

"Based on the information we have attained, the Review Board was unanimous in making the following recommendations:

"Rev. Francis Schroering Matter -- We, the Review Board, recommend that Father Francis Schroering immediately be re-instated into active ministry with no restrictions. While we feel the accuser experienced trauma in her early childhood, we found no reasonable cause to believe Father Schroering was connected to this event or any other inappropriate conduct with a minor.

"This decision in no way should be interpreted as fully discounting or disbelieving the information relayed to us by the accuser. However, after an exhaustive review of all relevant statements and documentation, the weight and totality of the information strongly dictates that the recommendations made here are appropriate and just." Photo The Rev. Francis Schroering

Byline: MAUREEN HAYDEN, Courier & Press staff writer

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