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Saturday, September 08, 2018 1:00 am

Rhoades adamant in denying allegation

Misconduct accusation from time in Pennsylvania

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

The bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has denied an allegation of misconduct while serving in a diocese in Pennsylvania, where a grand jury report revealed widespread sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy.

The allegation against the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades is being investigated by the Dauphin County district attorney's office after being turned over by officials of the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Rhoades led the Harrisburg diocese as bishop between 2004 and 2009, just before being appointed the ninth bishop of the local diocese.  

In a statement Thursday, Rhoades “adamantly” denied “any validity to this accusation and the insinuation of inappropriate behavior.” He said he “did nothing wrong” and is “confident any investigation will bear this out.”

The bishop's statement was issued after the Harrisburg diocese confirmed Thursday it had received a single allegation of misconduct by Rhoades.

A statement from the diocese says it “immediately” referred the allegation to the district attorney and PA ChildLine, the state's child abuse hotline, as required by law and church policy.

“We would stress that this is an allegation,” said Mike Barley, a diocesan spokesman. “We will have no further comment until the investigation of the Office of the District Attorney is concluded.”

District Attorney Fran Chardo did not return a call Friday from The Journal Gazette seeking more information.

However, press reports in Pennsylvania quote Chardo as saying the allegation concerns Rhoades' relationship with a male who died in 1996. The person was around 18 when the alleged improper conduct occurred, the reports say.

The person reporting Rhoades “alleged that they perceived the relationship as odd. But they did not witness any inappropriate conduct,” Chardo told PennLive, an online newspaper in Harrisburg. 

No crime was alleged, and no charges have been filed, Chardo said. However, the district attorney's office is following up to make sure no crime was committed, he said.

According to the York Daily Record, Chardo said the allegation came from a family member of the alleged victim, who said Rhoades, then a priest, would have known the young man before and after he turned 18.

Chardo also told the newspaper that he believed the allegation was prompted by the release of the grand jury report, adding calls to his office alleging improprieties by Catholic priests have increased since the report came out Aug.14.

David Clohessy, former director of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said Friday that Rhoades should step down while the investigation is ongoing.

“I urge Catholic officials in Indiana and Pennsylvania to aggressively reach out to others who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes, misdeeds or cover-ups by Rhoades or other clerics,” Clohessy said.

Rhoades, 60, was a priest in two parishes in the Harrisburg diocese and assistant chancellor to Harrisburg's bishop between 1983 and 1995, when he left to join the faculty of Mount Saint Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He also was seminary rector during his time there.

The parishes were St. Patrick in York and Saint Francis of Assisi in Harrisburg. Rhoades' chancellor service to then-Bishop William Keeler occurred from 1988 to 1990. Rhoades grew up in Lebanon in the diocese. 

The grand jury report found 300 priests had molested more than 1,000 minors in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Harrisburg's, since the late 1940s. The report has had worldwide news coverage and resulted in more than 900 calls to a hotline set up by Pennsylvania's attorney general. 

Rhoades was named in the report in connection to incidents involving two priests, William Presley and Francis Bach.

In a written statement by his attorney added to the report, Rhoades said he dealt with the allegations, which occurred years before he was bishop, by reporting them to church and civil authorities and made sure the priests were punished.

According to the report, Rhoades at the time urged not making information about the priests known because it would cause “great public scandal” in the diocese.

But he maintains he did so to stress that the serious nature of the priests' behavior justified their removal from priesthood.

Last month, Rhoades said he had an “unwavering commitment to child safety” and acted to protect children both while in Harrisburg and locally.

He apologized to victims of clergy abuse in a news conference in Fort Wayne last month and pledged to release the names of “credibly accused” priests in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

That list has not yet been released.

rsalter@jg.net