One Accused Priest Absent at Sunday Mass

By Jennifer Whitson and Mark Wilson, Courier & Press staff writers 464-6723 464-7417 or
Evansville Courier & Press
May 6, 2002

Two churches in the Evansville Catholic Diocese responded differently on Sunday morning to revelations that two priests had sexual relations with minors, incidents that were not reported to legal authorities.

The incidents, more than 20 years old, were not publicly acknowledged by diocese officials until a front-page article in the Sunday Courier & Press, which outlined the allegations against the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, 47, an associate priest at Sts. Peter and Paul in Haubstadt, Ind., and the Rev. Michael Allen, 57, pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church in Celestine, Ind.

At the Haubstadt parish, Kurzendoerfer was absent Sunday morning. Near the beginning of the Mass, the Rev. Francis A. Schroering, 77, briefly discussed Kurzendoerfer, who the diocese acknowledges had a relationship with a 14-year-old boy in 1981.

"In a sad note, I have to report to you about the failures of two of our fathers over 20 years ago," Schroering said to a full church of approximately 250 people at the 10 a.m. Mass. Schroering condemned the attention the reports received in the newspaper.

"There is not one of us whose sins wouldn't look pretty bad all over the front page of the newspaper," he said. "I ask you to support the two fathers as you would in any family. And I ask you to pray for the two victims."

He told the parish: "Father Mark has gone for assessment due to the reporting."

It was a different atmosphere in Celestine, where Allen was there to celebrate the Mass, the first communion for 28 parish youths. Allen did not directly discuss the allegations.

During announcements near theof the service, however, Allen read a message from Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, telling the congregation to expect the newspaper's article about their pastor and encouraging them to attend a Sunday evening meeting with the bishop at the parish.

Kurzendoerfer is alleged to have had sexual contact with a 14- year-old boy while a teacher at Washington Catholic High School. Allen, 57, is alleged to have had sexual contact with a 16-year-old boy beginning in 1976.

The Evansville Catholic Diocese, in letters sent by the diocese or its attorney, acknowledged that the two priests had relations with the two men when they were teen-agers. The two men provided copies of the correspondence, which included a proposed confidentiality agreement, to the Evansville Courier & Press.

The church offered the men the confidentiality agreements, which would have kept all information regarding the incidents from public disclosure. If the men did not sign, the church would disclose what was known in a "public forum and to appropriate civil authorities," documents show. The men did not sign the agreements.

After the Sunday Mass in Haubstadt, most parishioners declined to comment on Kurzendoerfer, an associate to Schroering since 1999.

But Donna Maurer, a parishioner, stopped to talk about her close relationship with Kurzendoerfer.

"Father Mark is not only my priest, but my friend," Maurer said. "He always has time for you.

"(The media attention) is very unfortunate," she added. "There are a lot of murderers who get more respect than these priests. I understand their victims do have rights, but I don't feel like Father Mark should be condemned. There are places in the church for priests who have made mistakes."

Other parishioners also voiced support for Kurzendoerfer, but declined to give their names.

"It's too bad it gets so much publicity," one man said.

"We love Father Mark," one woman said before walking away.

Kurzendoerfer is also an associate to the Rev. Bernard Etienne, pastor of St. Joseph in Princeton, Ind., and of Blessed Sacrament in Oakland City, Ind. Before being assigned to these parishes, Kurzendoerfer was a teacher at Mater Dei and Memorial high schools.

The parking lot and sanctuary at Celestine was full of jubilant parishioners on Sunday. They were there to share in the first communion of parish youths. Outside, a partially constructed $1.3 million religious education building testified to the strength and faith of the parish community. Allen visited with congregation members after Mass.

He again declined to speak with the newspaper about the matter. He said he planned to attend some of the family gatherings planned to celebrate the first communions.

Many in the isolated parish were apparently unaware of the situation. Learning of the allegations, one woman visiting from Odon, Ind., who declined to give her name, said she found it difficult to believe. Her family, she said, had known Allen for a long time.

Allen was transferred to Celestine in 2001 after serving as pastor at St. Theresa and St. Joseph in Evansville. He has served at many Southwest Indiana and Evansville Diocese churches since being ordained in 1971. According to the diocese documents obtained by the Courier & Press, the incidents involving him began in 1976 while an associate pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Princeton, Ind.


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