Accusation brought against Father Bernie Etienne, parish priest of Evansville
EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The Catholic Diocese of Evansville revealed on Wednesday that the Reverend Bernie Etienne has been charged with sexual misconduct.
Etienne has been placed on administrative leave and is not authorized to exercise a public ministry while an investigation is underway. He denies the charge.
Here’s what we know about the situation so far.
Who is Bernie Etienne?
Etienne is currently pastor of Holy Rosary Parish in Evansville, but has held various important positions in the diocese over the years.
Etienne ran a medical supply business before deciding to prepare for the priesthood in the mid-1980s, according to records from The Message newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville. After earning a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and a master’s degree in theology from Mundelein Seminary, Etienne was ordained in 1993 at the age of 35.
After:Catholic Diocese of Evansville priest charged with sexual misconduct
Etienne’s first position was in Jasper at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where he served as associate pastor until 1996. From 1995 he also served as Diocesan Vocations Director, a position he held until ‘in 2010.
From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, Etienne pastored two churches in Gibson County: St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Princeton and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Oakland City.
Etienne served as Teens Encounter Christ Chaplain from 1998 to 2001, and also served briefly as Dean of Princeton Deanery in the mid-2000s. Since then he has been based in the Evansville area.
Accusation against the priest of the Holy Rosary
We don’t know much at the moment.
Diocese spokesman Tim Lilley said the incident happened more than 20 years ago. Lilley did not reveal the alleged victim’s age or gender and did not release any other details.
The diocese did not say where Etienne was stationed at the time of the incident, and Lilly said the church would not comment further at this time.
Who will investigate the complaint?
Lilley said the allegation will be investigated by “civil authorities”, meaning law enforcement, and the Diocesan Review Commission, a body that responds at the local level. allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons.
The diocesan review boards stem from a set of ecclesiastical policies adopted by US Catholic bishops in the early 2000s after the Boston Globe and other media outlets determined that the Catholic Church had protected pedophile priests for decades.
The Evansville Diocese Review Board is investigating the sexual abuse allegations to determine if the allegations are “credible and plausible”, according to diocesan records. For the church to find an allegation “credible,” a bishop must also agree with the review board’s finding, or the priest must admit that the abuse occurred.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Etienne was stationed in Gibson and DuBois counties, according to diocesan records. The Courier & Press left messages for Gibson and DuBois county prosecutors, but did not hear back before publication.
Evansville Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Anna Gray said the allegation was not brought to EPD investigators, and Vanderburgh County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Jess Powers said she was not told of an investigation.
Etienne has two brothers who are also priests
Zach Etienne is the pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Evansville. Paul Etienne, meanwhile, is Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
In 2020 and 2021, a Seattle group called “Heal Our Church” pushed Paul Etienne to open the archdiocese’s file on the accused priests to public scrutiny. The collective was led by former federal prosecutors, a retired judge and an ex-priest, among others.
“But so far, Etienne has responded only with impersonal, pro forma letters that dispute the need for such a move,” the Seattle Times wrote last year.
Representatives for Heal Our Church did not respond to a Courier & Press request for comment.
From 2019:List of Accused Diocese of Evansville Priests Includes Active Ministry Up to 3 Days Ago
The list of the diocese
In February 2019, the Diocese of Evansville released a list of all clergy it said had been “credibly accused of child sexual abuse” throughout the history of the diocese.
It included 12 names. One – the Reverend Jean Vogler, who was arrested in a federal child pornography sting in 1996 and allowed to return to work after being released from prison and undergoing psychiatric treatment – was removed from his post just three days before that the list is made public.
It did not include the names of accused priests whom the church deemed cleared by diocesan review.
Those named on the list are: Michael Allen; John Breidenbach; Joseph Clauss; James Clements; Wilfrid Englert; Mark Kurzendoerfer; Arthur Mergen; Othmar Schroeder; Richard Wildman; John Vogler; Warren Heitz; and Robert Woerdeman.
Another priest on leave
Bernie Etienne is now the second priest in the diocese on administrative leave.
Reverend David Fleck was barred from the prosecution in 2018. According to a letter the diocese wrote to the Knox County prosecutor’s office that was later obtained by the Vincennes Sun-Commercial, Fleck was accused of “soliciting “two men while teaching at Vincennes. Rivet High School in the 1980s.
A third was reportedly sought in a separate incident. According to the letter, the accuser was not one of the alleged victims.
Fleck denies the request. No criminal charges have been filed.
The diocese declined to provide updates on Fleck’s case. A directory of clergy on the diocese’s website that was last updated in January still lists him as being on administrative leave.
Etienne once supervised an abusive priest
Former Evansville priest Mark Kurzendoerfer has admitted to having sexual contact with minors or making sexual advances to minors over the course of several years. There were four “credible” charges against him before he was removed from office in 2002, according to the diocese.
The Courier & Press reported in 2002 that former bishop Gerald Gettelfinger discovered in 1990 that Kurzendoerfer had once sexually abused an underage boy. The church sent him to treatment and then put him back into active ministry. The public wasn’t told about it until years later.
According to Courier & Press records, Gettelfinger imposed restrictions on Kurzendoerfer upon his return. He could continue to work, but he was not allowed to interact with the children.
Gettelfinger hasn’t told many people about the restrictions.
Addressing angry parishioners at Sts. Peters and Paul Catholic Church after Kurzendoerfer was finally removed from the ministry, Gettelfinger admitted he was “wrong” and regretted his “failure to find a way to communicate what you had a right to know”.
Kurzendoerfer reportedly continued to have private counseling sessions with children, parents told the Courier & Press in 2002. He walked out on some for ice cream. Even the principal of the school where Kurzendoerfer worked was unaware of the restrictions.
No more than two priests supposed to supervise Kurzendoerfer – including Etienne
They only thought that the priest had no right to take care of teenagers. They continued to allow her to work with younger children, the Courier & Press reported.
The other supervising priest was also later charged with sexual misconduct, but his name is not on the diocese’s list of charges.
Contact Jon Webb at [email protected]
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