Tip Ignored, Man Says
Bishop Faulted over Earlier Abuse Charges

By Paige Akin
Richmond Times Dispatch
August 25, 2002

When a former city official told the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond that he knew the names of several victims of priest sexual abuse, the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan allegedly shrugged off the tip.

Former city finance director Neal Evans was an active lay member of the diocese in the 1980s and 1990s until, he said, Sullivan turned a deaf ear to credible information he had about possible abuse.

Evans said it happened at the hands of the Rev. John Hesch, a priest who committed suicide in 1994 when Sullivan confronted him about abuse allegations. One of his alleged victims, a 21-year-old parishioner of St. Augustine Catholic Church, had killed himself just weeks before.

After Hesch's death, Sullivan sent a letter to all priests in the diocese asking them "to determine if there are any parishioners who need counseling in light of these developments." He also asked them to keep the letter confidential.

Hesch denied the abuse allegations in his suicide note. He had been shuffled from church to church for more than a decade and had denied allegations of abuse in the mid-1980s, as well.

One of the churches he served was in Lee County. Evans had moved there in 1989 to serve as county administrator when his struggle with multiple sclerosis required him to scale back his work.

Evans said that when he contacted Sullivan with the names of more alleged victims just weeks after Hesch killed himself, Sullivan told him to stay out of it.

"I gave him the names of two young men, and I was told, really, it wasn't a concern of mine," Evans recalled last week in a phone interview from Asheville, N.C., where he now is retired.

Evans said he only wanted to make sure Sullivan and the diocese were providing adequate counseling to all of Hesch's victims.

Sullivan did not respond to requests for comment. The Rev. Pasquale J. Apuzzo, diocese spokesman, also did not respond.

Evans knows the devastation of priest abuse. That's why he said he wanted to help with the Hesch case.

When Evans was 9, the priest of his parish in Asheville began pulling him out of class at his Catholic school to have sex with him, he said.

The Rev. William Kuder of St. Joan of Arc also abused at least 10 other young boys, Evans said.

For Evans, it went on for four years - sodomy, oral sex and plenty of touching.

"It was pretty heavy stuff," he said. "I didn't deal with it for quite a while."

The abuse ended when he was 13, Evans believes, because his abuser was "truly a pedophile." After boys reached puberty, he lost interest. Also, Evans left Asheville to attend seminary in Pennsylvania; he dropped out during his senior year.

Kuder died in 1960, about five years after the last time he molested Evans. Evans finally went to counseling in the 1980s and early 1990s and began to deal with his abuse. The healing process culminated in 1995, when Bishop William G. Curlin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., appeared at Hesch's former church to apologize on behalf of Kuder and the diocese.

Evans never wanted to sue anyone for his abuse. All he wanted was that apology.

Now, after years of abuse and what he believes is mishandling of the Hesch case, Evans said he's lost faith in the Catholic church.

"Suddenly it occurred to me that none of these guys are very serious about their faith. There was nobody around to affirm the beliefs that I had held," Evans said. "Certainly the situation with Sullivan was an important piece of that realization, and during that process it was fairly clear that he delayed confirming the abuse [by Hesch] and made excuses after the fact about why he didn't confirm it earlier."

Evans said he's not surprised by the recent flood of priest-abuse victims coming forward in the Richmond Diocese and across the country. Many victims, including Evans, are seeking help from groups like the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

And many - including Evans - suffer years of depression that they trace back to their abuse.

"It's everywhere, mushrooming, and nobody's holding back any more," he said. "That's a very good thing."

Still, he's angered at how Sullivan has handled abuse allegations against the Rev. John E. Leonard, now pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Glen Allen.

Five men have come forward in recent months to accuse Leonard of abusing them in the 1970s while they were students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland County. Leonard joined the St. John Vianney faculty in 1968 and served as rector from 1974 until 1978, when the all-male high school closed.

Leonard has denied the allegations; Sullivan announced in June that Leonard's actions may have been improper but do not warrant his dismissal.

But Evans still thinks Sullivan owes an apology for how he handled the Hesch situation.

In Charlotte, the bishop apologized.

In Richmond, Evans said, the bishop is trying to sweep abuse allegations under the rug.

"It was not made transparent to the community, as it should have been," he said.

Contact Paige Akin at (804) 649-6671 or


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