EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – Officials say following completion of a thorough investigation, Evansville Bishop Joseph M. Siegel has returned Father Bernie Etienne, a priest of the diocese and pastor of Evansville`s Holy Rosary Parish, to active ministry, effective immediately.
A news release says an allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct against Father Etienne, which was alleged to have occurred more than 20 years ago, was determined to be unfounded. Officials say Bishop Siegel placed Father Etienne on administrative leave in March of this year after the allegation surfaced.
The press release says the decision was announced to all parishes in the diocese and publicized extensively through a public announcement, posts to social media and the diocesan website, and publication in The Message, the official newspaper of the diocese. Officials say as part of the announcement the public was encouraged to come forward with relevant information, and no other allegations against Father Etienne were received.
Church officials say upon learning of the allegation, diocesan officials notified civil authorities and initiated an investigation. The press release says a private investigator interviewed 22 persons, including Father Etienne, and thoroughly reviewed all the evidence available. Officials say the investigator determined that the allegation was not credible.
The Catholic Diocese of Evansville says the investigator`s report was presented to the Review Board, which is composed of Diocese of Evansville business and community leaders with expertise in psychology, law and child abuse. Officials say the Review Board voted unanimously that the allegation was unsubstantiated and recommended that Father Etienne be reinstated to public ministry. The news release says Bishop Siegel reviewed their recommendation and all the evidence, and determined that the allegation was unfounded.
Church officials say the Diocese of Evansville takes any allegation of inappropriate sexual conduct seriously. Officials say the diocese prioritizes the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the provision of healing for victims.
The Catholic Diocese of Evansville says if you are a victim of sexual misconduct by a person ministering on behalf of the Church, or if you know of anyone who has been a victim of such misconduct, please contact law enforcement and the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator at 812-490-9565 or toll-free at 866-200-3004.