Bishop Informs Knox Prosecutor

By Dave Hosick, Courier & Press staff writer 464-7449 or
Evansville Courier & Press
May 7, 2002

The bishop of the Evansville Catholic Diocese said Monday the church has reported to the Knox County prosecutor a sexual relationship that one of its priests had with a 16-year-old boy more than 20 years ago.

Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, at a 4 p.m. news conference, said the situation involving the Rev. Michael Allen was discussed at a 3 p.m. meeting with Knox prosecutors. Allen has acknowledged the relationship, and Gettelfinger has decided to keep the priest at St. Peter Celestine Catholic Church in Celestine, Ind.

The legal age of sexual consent in Indiana is 16, and that law also applied at the time of Allen's relationship.

"That last thing I want to give credence to is the fact I'm trying to hide anything," Gettelfinger said. Dealing with such allegations, he said, in a public fashion will help ensure that " young people are not abused and those who are abused get the help they need."

Gettelfinger spoke of Allen and another priest, the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, at a Monday news conference, called in response to a report about the two priests in the Sunday Evansville Courier & Press.

Gettelfinger confirmed that "one or two" additional allegations have arisen since the newspaper's report, including one from a person alleging abuse dating back to the 1940s.

Gettelfinger urged anyone with allegations of sexual abuse to contact police so a thorough investigation can be conducted and young lives protected.

Gettelfinger's message to possible abuse victims was:

"Go first to the civil authorities, to police, to get this reported so it comes into the public forum, where an investigation can take place, not only by internal processes but also external processes.

"The more we as a community can do with this evil that exits, not only in the church alone, but in society, the more we can work together to eradicate it," Gettelfinger added.

Gettelfinger also responded to questions about why he didn't earlier disclose the relationships involving Allen and Kurzendoerfer, alleged to have had a relationship with a 14-year-old boy.

"As of the late to middle 1970s, this activity (pedophilia) was seen to be more of moral lapse and not as a disease or a sickness that is treatable or incurable," Gettelfinger said.

The bishop learned in 1993 of Allen's sexual relationship with the 16-year-old boy. The other case, the one involving Kurzendoerfer, 47, came to the attention of the diocese in the early '80s, before Gettelfinger became bishop.

Both priests were given psychiatric care and counseling before being reassigned and restricted from dealing directly with children in their parish.

On Sunday the bishop scheduled a parish meeting at the Celestine, Ind., church where Allen is assigned. At the meeting, Allen admitted to his parish that he had an improper sexual relationship with a 16- year-old more than 20 years ago. Kurzendoerfer has not commented on the allegations.

At the news conference, Gettelfinger denied allegations that the diocese tried to intimidate two alleged victims into staying quiet, as one of the victims has said.

David Prunty, who had the sexual relationship with Allen in the 1970s, said he received a letter from the diocesan attorney that Prunty considered an attempt to maintain his silence.

Gettelfinger conceded that "trust in the church has been diminished."

However, he has urged the other priests in the diocese to "stand tall because their integrity is their defense. They cannot be implemented by the sins of the few."

The bishop also said people who come forward in the future with allegations of abuse also will be offered a confidentiality agreement. Regardless, however, law enforcement authorities will still be contacted, Gettelfinger said.

The diocesan policy, he said, also requires a priest be placed on leave while an investigation is completed. If the allegation is proved true, the priest will immediately be reassigned and restricted from having direct contact with children, similar to Allen and Kurzendoerfer.

"The priest who is being reassigned to a place will need to stand in front of his people and tell them who he is and what he is, much like... those who suffer from alcoholism who stand up to the public they've been responsible for say 'This is who I am,'" Gettelfinger said.

The bishop also said the diocese is working with priests to help them "recognize there are such things as professional boundaries that should never be violated."

"The days of a priest loading kids up in a car and going to the swimming pool are over," he said.


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