Some Catholics Feel Audit Falls Short
Nearly All Dioceses Are Complying

By Philip Elliott
Courier & Press [Kentucky]
January 7, 2004

Family members of a man molested by a Catholic priest say a report released Tuesday does not reflect frustrations of Catholics who feel church officials misled them.

Dennis Kurzendoerfer, whose brother was a priest and abused his son, said the national audit of diocesan practices falls short of the promised resolution. Yet despite the feelings of betrayal at the hands of church and brother, Kurzendoerfer and his immediate family returned to a Catholic service for the first time in 18 months on Christmas Eve.

Kurzendoerfer said church officials played too prominent a role in providing documents to the independent auditors, headed by a former FBI agent.

"The bishop is in a big position of authority," Kurzendoerfer said. "When it comes to No. 1, the bishop is going to cover (himself) first."

Almost all U.S. Catholic dioceses are complying with mandates established 18 months ago to protect children from abuse in churches, according to the report released through the the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops' association has no direct authority over any of the United States' 194 dioceses.

The Diocese of Evansville met standards that U.S. bishops set forth during a 2002 conference in Dallas, according to the report.

"We've complied totally with the auditors," said Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger.

The report, the first of three to be released before March, provides the results of 191 on-site compliance audits conducted across the nation. Auditors visited the Evansville Diocese on Oct. 20-23 and reviewed the comprehensive policies against sexual conduct with minors.

On average, the church nationwide spent less than $10,000 per diocese, totaling about $1.8 million nationally.

Future reports will detail the total number of abuse cases and their financial toll. Those documents will be presented Feb. 27.

In preparation for that release, diocesan officials have been releasing their own information.

The Evansville Diocese released its information in December, including the removal of four priests who admitted instances of abuse.

"The idea is to make sure we're not going to be swallowed up," Gettelfinger said. "We were encouraged to do so, so we didn't get lost locally."

That full disclosure, called for after reports documented church officials simply shifted abusive priests instead of treating or getting rid of them, is the first step for diocesan healing.

"I'm making every effort to restore that, restore confidence. Oe It's certainly been eroded," he said.

For Kurzendoerfer, however, that trust has been destroyed.

His brother, the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, who served three churches including Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Haubstadt, Ind., was accused of and treated for sexual abuse of minors, including his nephew. His ministry was terminated in May 2002.

Dennis Kurzendoerfer, 52, of Newburgh, has attended Crossroads Christian Church for the last eight months.

"It's more into Bible-study teaching. I never really had too much of that," said Kurzendoerfer, who had been Catholic since birth. "The Catholic Church is a lot of the same routine."

But that routine prompted the Kurzendoerfer family - including abuse victim Rick - to attend Midnight Mass at Holy Rosary. Rick Kurzendoerfer, who had spoken publicly about his uncle's abuse, was on leave from service in Iraq and told his family he wanted to attend Christmas Eve services.

Elsewhere in Indiana, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis did not meet all of the U.S. church's guidelines for protecting children from sexual abuse until after auditors pointed out a deficiency, the report said.

After being audited by an outside group of investigators Aug. 4-8, the archdiocese began training clergy, employees, volunteers and others on providing safe environments for children. The additional training brought it into compliance with child safety standards adopted in June 2002.


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