The allegations of misconduct against a Broward County Catholic high school principal paint a portrait of a man who got gratification from watching boys shower and touching them, according to a report released Friday by prosecutors.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office memo details other claims that surfaced against the suspended priest and explains why prosecutors could not pursue a criminal case against the Rev. Joseph Kershner. The Cardinal Gibbons High School principal has denied the allegations.
On March 28, the State Attorney’s Office received a letter from a man who attended the popular Fort Lauderdale school from 1972 to 1976. The former student, whose name is not being released by officials, accused Kershner of groping the then 14-year-old and other male students. A similar letter was sent to the archdiocese, the memo said.
On several occasions Kershner is accused of sliding his hands down the back of the teen’s pants, earning the principal a lewd nickname, documents said. Eventually, the teenager began avoiding “locations where he might encounter Reverend Kershner,” the memo said.
The Rev. Monsignor Tomas N. Marin, chancellor of the Miami Archdiocese, which oversees the Broward school, wrote in a response to the letter that he had searched Kershner’s file with the archdiocese “and found no evidence of any allegation of improper behavior during [Kershner’s] time of ministry in the Archdiocese of Miami.”
Assistant Broward State Attorney Dennis Siegel told the former student the statute of limitations had run out for prosecution. However, the former student agreed to allow police to investigate his complaint.
On June 17, Broward County Sheriff’s Office Detective Don Scarbrough interviewed the former student over the phone and was told “Reverend Kershner would approach male students from behind and slide his hand inside and below the waistband of the students’ pants and underwear,” documents said.
Despite Marin’s earlier indication that there was no evidence of misconduct in Kershner’s file, the archdiocese put the priest on leave about the same time the alleged victim made his report. Officials have not said if their decision was prompted by the report.
When Kershner’s suspension became public, more complaints were reported to the State Attorney’s Office. In his memo, Siegel refers to these additional complaints saying they included accusations of “ogling male students in the locker room during or immediately after showers as well as touching or fondling the buttocks and genitals of students by Reverend Kershner.”
Prosecutors subpoenaed documents from the archdiocese including a letter from Kershner to Marin in which he said the claims were “totally false” and wrote that he was probably mistaken for another former Gibbons administrator. Kershner’s attorney Dave Bogenschutz echoed similar claims in a separate letter to Archbishop John Favalora.
“Father Kershner’s position is he didn’t do anything,” said Bogenschutz. “Like anyone else accused of something like this he’s asking why this man made this allegation. … Either it’s an exaggeration or he may have been mistaken for someone else.”
Siegel said earlier this week that his office would not pursue a criminal case against the priest since the statute of limitations had expired. But, the memo did say if the fondling had been reported earlier it could have either constituted a second-degree felony of indecent assault upon a child or a first-degree misdemeanor battery.
Many current and former students at the school support Kershner, who is still under investigation by archdiocese officials.
Alumnus and Broward County employee Robert Fossa said he never heard any hint of problems with Kershner. He recalled Kershner visiting the locker room when he was a Gibbons student from 1967 to 1970, “but never ever did he go into the showers and watch any of us.”