By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 4, 2006
An afternoon of football watching and holiday decorating took a strange detour yesterday for some Herndon residents when they opened their doors to find strangers confronting them with troubling information: One of their neighbors is an accused pedophile.
Members of two groups representing victims of abusive Catholic priests went door-to-door in the neighborhood, distributing packets of information accusing a former Catholic priest who has lived there for 10 years.
"Community notification: Protect your children from a credibly accused serial sex offender," the packet's cover reads.
The 38-page sheaf of material contained information about Edward F. Dudzinski, 56, who last month was among 20 former priests accused by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Del., of sexually abusing children. He served in the priesthood in the 1970s and 1980s.
The diocese disclosed the names in its weekly newspaper, saying that it had found "credible or substantiated complaints of sexual abuse of minors" against the priests. It said eight, including Dudzinski, are living. Dudzinski has not been convicted of -- or charged in -- any sex-abuse crime.
In a letter accompanying the list, Bishop Michael Saltarelli of the Diocese of Wilmington said he released the names at the recommendation of a diocesan review board. A spokesman for the diocese did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Yesterday, Dudzinski did not return calls to numbers listed for his address. Two of his roommates, who said the former priest was not at home, defended him and denounced the groups' tactics.
"He's in recovery from his issue. He's not a danger to the community," said one roommate, who would identify himself only as Peter. "All they've done is create a hysteria in the neighborhood for no reason."
As the man spoke to journalists on the front lawn of the two-story, mint-green house where he said Dudzinski lives with several roommates, organizers of the leafleting campaign -- who said they were victims of other abusive priests -- interrupted.
"We are not talking about shoplifting here," called out Paul Steidler, a Reston consultant and a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "We are talking about the sexual abuse of children."
As Steidler spoke, a woman emerged from the house, carrying blue gift bags and frosted cupcakes to a worn station wagon at the curb.
"Do you see what they're doing?" she said to the roommate, brushing aside SNAP members and journalists. "They're putting these things in people's mailboxes in our neighborhood."
The woman, who would not identify herself in an interview later, said that she and her 10-year-old son have rented a room in the house for the past eight years and that she trusts Dudzinski. She said the groups' tactics are a violation of Dudzinski's privacy.
"It's very upsetting for him because other than 30 years ago, he's never done anything inappropriate," she said. "That's what I've been told, that's what I've observed, and that's what I believe."
For some in the close-knit community, where block parties and gatherings are common, it was a disturbing afternoon.
Members of SNAP and Voice of the Faithful, another support group for those abused by priests, walked from home to home for close to an hour in the December chill, talking to residents who answered their knocks.
Stella Matthes, who has two teenagers, thanked SNAP board member Mark Serrano and Voice of the Faithful member Evelyn Mercantini as they handed her a packet of information and gave her a synopsis of Dudzinski's alleged past.
Along with the Diocese of Wilmington's accusations, the packet contained copies of records showing that Dudzinski, who moved to Fairfax County in the 1990s to work as a substance-abuse counselor, gave up his license as part of a settlement with the Virginia Board of Counseling in 2003. Those records, available online, show that the board said that Dudzinski had become "personally involved" with teenagers he was counseling.
After Serrano and Mercantini had moved on to the next house, Matthes said the encounter had made her uncomfortable.
"I'm a little surprised that people are going door-to-door," she said. "I think it would be more appropriate if they were to mail something out."
A few doors away, John and Kathy Wilson, who have a 3-year-old daughter, said they were grateful for the information.
"It's always important to know who's living around you," Kathy Wilson said.
Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.