Evansville Bishop Disagrees with 'One-Strike' Sex Abuse Policy

By Kimberley Hefling
Associated Press
June 10, 2002

Evansville, Ind. -- Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger, who has allowed two Roman Catholic priests to remain active despite sexual improprieties, said Monday he was opposed to a one-strike-you're-out policy for all priests found to have committed sexual misconduct.

Two priests in the Evansville diocese who were assigned to new parishes after their sexual misconduct are examples of success stories that would not have happened under a zero-tolerance policy, Gettelfinger said.

"My conviction is that priests can not only repent, but be rehabilitated," Gettelfinger told reporters.

A proposal that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is expected to discuss this week in Dallas would impose a zero-tolerance policy for priests who molest children in the future, and a two-strikes-you're-out policy for those who abused children in the past.

Some bishops have said they support a no-tolerance policy for those who committed past abuse.

Gettelfinger said he believed any priest accused of currently abusing a child should be reported to police, and pedophiles should not be allowed to serve as priests.

He said the national policy should also instruct bishops on what to do to keep priests found to be pedophiles away from children.

"My point is if a priest is guilty and is diseased - as you will - as a pedophile, that I've got to do all I can to keep that person off the street," Gettelfinger said.

Gettelfinger has been criticized by some in recent weeks for his handling of sexual misconduct allegations that have been made public against a handful of priests in the Evansville diocese, which includes about 100 priests in all or parts of 12 counties in southwestern Indiana.

Two of the priests remain in positions of authority, and are generally accepted and supported by parishioners. They are required to restrict their work with children.

The Rev. Jean Vogler, after spending a year in prison after a 1996 conviction on possession of child pornography, was assigned to Holy Trinity Church in Evansville.

The Rev. Michael Allen was assigned to St. Peter Celestine Catholic Church in rural DuBois County after receiving treatment for having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy. The relationship occurred while Allen was a priest more than 20 years ago.

Gettelfinger said he knew that rehabilitation efforts did not work with all priests, such as the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer.

Kurzendoerfer, who most recently was an associate pastor at churches in Haubstadt, Princeton and Oakland City, was accused in the early 1990s of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy more than 20 years earlier.

Kurzendoerfer was sent to a treatment center in May in St. Louis after Gettelfinger said Kurzendoerfer had violated rules prohibiting him from being alone with children.

Gettelfinger, who is leaving Wednesday for the conference, said he was concerned that expectations about the outcome of the conference were too high. But he said he thinks the bishops will be able to pass a strong policy that is clear and easily understood.

"My best hope is that they would have a renewed hope, and beginning of building of trust again, trust that's been violated, trust that's been abused, trust that has been lost," Gettelfinger said.


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