Allegation Leads to Suspension of Catholic Principal
The Very Rev. Joseph Kershner Was Removed from a Fort Lauderdale High School in June

By Noaki Schwartz
Orlando Sentinel [Florida]
July 10, 2002

Fort Lauderdale -- The long-time principal of one of Broward County's largest Roman Catholic high schools has been suspended following an allegation of misconduct.

The removal of the Very Rev. Joseph J. Kershner from his position at Cardinal Gibbons High School was confirmed Tuesday by Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta. She said the suspension became effective during the second week of June.

Kershner's attorney, Dave Bogenschutz, said the suspension was "based upon very tenuous and questionable correspondence received by the archdiocese."

He said the incident allegedly occurred in the 1980s, but declined to reveal the specific nature of the complaint.

"I just think it's really a sad situation that the archdiocese felt they had to act so quickly on information that is not only stale but of questionable reliability," Bogenschutz said.

Broward Assistant State Attorney Dennis Siegel, who heads up investigations of sex crimes and child-abuse cases, said his office is "currently looking into an allegation" and has interviewed the alleged victim. Like Bogenschutz, he refused to provide details of the allegation.

Teachers, parents and students contacted Tuesday expressed shock and said they were never told their principal was put on administrative leave. Looking at a photograph of Kershner handing her daughter a diploma at this year's graduation, Valerie DeBianchi of Fort Lauderdale said she had never even heard "any kind of rumors" about the principal.

The school, which has an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students, has been popular with both Catholics and non-Catholic parents since it was established in 1961. Located in an affluent neighborhood on Bayview Drive just south of Commercial Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, it is the second-largest Catholic high school in Broward County, behind only St. Thomas Aquinas.

Many of the school's administrators, like Kershner, have worked at Cardinal Gibbons for decades. In 1966, only five years after the school opened, Kershner became principal of the then boys division, according to archdiocese records. He was promoted to supervising principal of the entire school in 1975 and became principal in 1990.

Former students who attended the school in the 1960s recall Kershner, then a young newcomer, as strict but very involved with student activities.

"Even as a teacher, he just went in there and did his business," said Luis Sologuren, a 1971 graduate whose brothers, sisters and daughter attended the school. "He was the principal, you were the student, and he wasn't your friend."

Over the years, parents said, Kershner became more "detached" from students.

"My daughter said she hasn't had much contact with him," said Robert Scharlatti, who was a student at the high school in 1966. "He's changed from when I knew him."

Still, alumni and students alike expressed disbelief that Kershner could be involved in any kind of misconduct.

"I don't think those allegations are true," said Lauren McGee, 16, adding that Kershner always greeted her at school. "He's a great guy."

Since 1998, eight priests have been suspended by the Miami archdiocese following sexual-abuse allegations. Earlier this month, a Margate pastor was put on administrative leave for undisclosed reasons.


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