Mystery Lingers 2 Years after Evansville Priest Was Accused of Sexual Misconduct | Webb
By Jon Webb
Courier & Press
September 18, 2020
Even back then, the details were hazy.
On Sept. 10, 2018, the Diocese of Evansville issued a statement saying it was putting Father David Fleck on leave after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
Scraps of information emerged over the next few weeks.
A public records request from The Vincennes Sun-Commercial and 14 News unearthed a letter the diocese wrote to Knox County prosecutors saying Fleck had been accused of “soliciting” two males while teaching at Vincennes Rivet High School in the 1980s. A third was allegedly solicited in a separate incident. According to the letter, the accuser wasn’t one of the purported victims.
More:Sexual misconduct allegation still looms over Evansville diocese priest | Webb
That’s still all we know.
This month marks two years since the accusations became public. The diocese has released no further details, no criminal charges have been filed and Fleck remains barred from public ministry. The diocese’s directory says he’s on “administrative leave.”
Fleck has denied the charges against him. The 71-year-old worked in several positions throughout the diocese, including at Mater Dei High School.
As it does with any sexual misconduct accusation against clergy, the church reported the allegation to civil authorities and launched an internal investigation through its Diocesan Review Board – a group of priests, diocese employees and volunteers who sometimes hire private investigators to carry out investigations.
On Wednesday, diocese spokesman Tim Lilley declined to give any update on the investigation.
“The diocese will provide information upon its completion,” he said.
Earlier this summer, we got a glimpse into how those investigations work.
On June 26, Bishop Joseph Siegel did something rare for him: he called a press conference.
Siegel has largely sealed himself off from the media since his arrival in 2017. He’s mostly answered questions through email, and last year Lilley told me an in-person interview with Siegel was “not possible.” Even a phone conversation was considered out of bounds.
But that day, he stood in front of the Diocese of Evansville Catholic Center to expound on a statement the diocese released about the investigation into allegations against another priest: the late Raymond Kuper.
In February 2019, a former Evansville man testified to the Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee that Kuper repeatedly sexually abused him when he was only 9 years old. The abuse reportedly took place at Christ the King in the 1980s.
He accused Kuper of “borderline brainwashing” him. Kuper died in 2012.
“On the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board, I have found that this allegation cannot be substantiated,” Siegel said on June 26.
I talked to the accuser’s family afterward. Aimee Compton called the investigation “absurd and offensive.”
Siegel claimed he instructed a private investigator to complete “as thorough and detailed an investigation as possible into the late Father Kuper’s life and ministry in the diocese.” But Compton said no investigator ever contacted the family. Church officials supposedly sent the Comptons a certified letter, but if they did, the family never received it.
That raises the question: how “thorough and detailed” could the investigation be if it didn’t involve the family of the accuser?
“As always, we are left disgusted and disappointed by the actions of Bishop Siegel and the Evansville Diocese,” Compton said in a statement to the Courier & Press. “It should come as no surprise that they have cleared their own of any wrongdoing.”
U.S. Catholic leaders established diocesan review boards in 2002, after cases of child abuse by priests exploded in the national media in the wake of reporting from The Boston Globe.
According to a list the diocese released last year, 12 Evansville clergy members have been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse against minors over the years. Other priests have been hit with accusations and subsequently cleared through internal review – not by law enforcement.
Here’s how the system works.
According to the U.S. Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a diocese should report any allegation to police. Depending on the accusation, the diocese would then put the accused on leave.
If the accused is dead, the diocese handles the case internally. The accuser gives a statement to the victim assistance coordinator and the review board investigates the claim or hands it off to a “lay person” with “investigatory expertise,” as Evansville did in the Kuper case.
Once the investigation is complete, the decision over whether the accusation is credible falls to one person: the bishop.
“Each diocese / eparchy will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness,” the charter reads. “Within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved, dioceses / eparchies will deal as openly as possible with members of the community.”
Two years on, we still know very little about the investigation into Fleck.
“Because the investigation is ongoing, it remains confidential,” Lilley said. “As a result, it will not be possible for you to speak to anyone about it at this time.”