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Priest Says Parish School Is Strong

As spokesman for Bishop Walter Sullivan, Apuzzo is used to fielding all kinds of questions from news media. This week, in addition to filling in as the priest for a parish in Midlothian, Apuzzo is scheduled to speak to National Public Radio and other media about the Catholic Church, its priests and pedophilia.

So you would think he'd regard any skirmish at a parish here as small potatoes. He doesn't.

For months, St. Benedict School on Grove Avenue and its parish have been embroiled in controversy about how the school should be run.

Two months ago, responding to complaints from parents, the bishop removed the principal after only seven months in office. News of this was reported last week in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Now Apuzzo and some who have been aligned with the school for years fear that persisting, false rumors about the incident could scar a parish and a school they say are rebounding.

Much of the concern had stemmed from what some parishioners and parents perceived as Father James F. Kauffmann's excessive influence over the school's principal, Carol Kahwajy. Insiders say time spent on academics and religious instruction had been eclipsed by theater practice and church attendance.

Today, the school has an interim principal (a search is on for a permanent one) and it is back to business as usual, Apuzzo says.

Still, rumors abound. Some in the parish say the bishop usurped the parish's control by firing Kahwajy and that Father Kauffmann is only permitted to visit the school when invited.

Neither is true, Apuzzo insists. "The pastor is not allowed into the school to administer it," he says; Kauffmann is there to provide pastoral duties and guidance for the administration. This has always been parish policy. Apuzzo stresses that Kauffmann has not been banned from the school.

"This is a huge point right now. The people in the parish don't understand this. This bishop expects him in the school doing his priestly duties. He also expects him to know the difference."

Kauffmann had not returned Style's calls by press time.

"I have never seen such anguish in decisions," says Barbara Rose, a longtime member of the parish. Rose owns the Sundaze ice cream shop across the street from the school. She sees the kids every day.

Rose says even while some parents and parishioners remain divided over what's best for the school, the students are moving on. "There's an energy and excitement now that had been diminished," she says.

Reaching for another piece of biscotti, Apuzzo seems to take this news happily. "We're past this," he says. — B.W.

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