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Evansville's Catholic Bishop Reports 22 Abuse Cases In 59 Years

Dec 19, 2003 | AP

Fifteen Roman Catholic priests of the Evansville diocese have been accused of sexually abusing 22 minors over nearly 60 years, Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger reported Thursday.

Three of the 15 priests were found innocent of accusations against them, and four admitted the allegations and were removed from ministry, the bishop said in a report prepared for Friday's editions of the diocesan newspaper, The Message.

Eight other priests were dead when allegations were brought against them, and those cases were not investigated, diocesan spokesman Paul R. Leingang said.

The cases have cost the diocese $264,080 in legal fees, counseling, housing for priests in treatment programs and other items, Gettelfinger said. The 12-county, southwestern Indiana diocese incurred most of the costs since the church's sexual abuse scandal broke open nearly two years ago.

Gettelfinger's report came a week after Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John M. D'Arcy disclosed that 16 priests in that diocese had sexually abused 33 children since 1950. Since 1985, the abuse has cost the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese and its insurers $1.36 million, with nearly half going to victims.

"I apologize to all those who have ever been violated by priests of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville or indeed by any other priest," Gettelfinger said in a column for the diocesan newspaper. "I pledge an ongoing outreach to victims by providing counseling knowing that 'innocence lost' can never be restored."

However, one of the victims, David Prunty, said he had come forward three times with his allegations of being abused at age 16, but was never offered a personal apology by Gettelfinger or the priest who abused him, the Rev. Michael Allen, one of the four removed by the diocese.

"I was never offered counseling," Prunty, now 45, said in a telephone interview from California. "Even though they have never denied my account, and the priest even admitted (it), I was still somehow the enemy.

"I'm not waiting anymore for it. I have to move on," Prunty said.

The information from the Evansville and Fort Wayne-South Bend dioceses are part of a national report on the scope of the sexual abuse crisis in the church since 1950.

Similar information is expected to be released in the coming weeks by the Indianapolis archdiocese and the Lafayette diocese. The Gary diocese said last week it did not plan such a report.

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, questioned whether the numbers reported by Gettelfinger disclosed the full extent of clergy sexual abuse in the diocese.

"This is self-reporting, so any prudent person would question whether this is the entire truth. For years, bishops have minimized and denied this horrific problem," Clohessy said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Gettelfinger said the actual costs of sexual abuse by priests might be much different from those he reported Thursday. Among other reasons for variances, the diocese does not have detailed costs for the assessment and treatment of priests older than seven years, not does it have complete fiscal records since its formation in 1944.

Gettelfinger's report did not identify any priests, but the diocese has removed three other priests in addition to Allen: the Rev. Mark Kurzendoerfer, the Rev. Richard J. Wildeman, and the late Rev. Joseph Clauss.

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