Sex Charge Forces Knoth out at Loyola
1986 Incident at Indiana School Is Credible, Church Panel Finds
By Coleman Warner and Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
October 8, 2003
Loyola University President Bernard Knoth, a dynamic priest credited with modernizing the school's facilities and sharpening its competitive edge, resigned Tuesday after his superiors said they found reason to believe that in 1986 he sexually abused a student from a Jesuit high school he directed in Indianapolis.
Knoth denied the allegation, but under a new church procedure he was relieved of all priestly duties and privileges. He quietly left New Orleans on Tuesday before Loyola officials stunned the campus community with a mass e-mail announcement shortly after lunch.
Summoned for an emergency meeting Tuesday, Loyola's board accepted the resignation of Knoth, 54, and named the Rev. William J. Byron, 76, a research professor at Loyola College of Baltimore, acting president.
Loyola officials said they didn't know details of the charge against Knoth, and under a provision of the university charter requiring the president to be a Jesuit priest in good standing, they had no choice but to accept his resignation.
The allegation involves a former student of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, according to an announcement from the Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus.
Knoth was principal of the coed school at the time. Officials did not disclose whether the former student is male or female.
"I would describe it (Knoth's resignation) as another event in a series of tragic events" involving alleged or admitted sexual misdeeds by priests that have rocked the Catholic Church, Byron said at a Marquette Hall news conference. "I have deep, deep sympathy for this good man who has been accused and I have deep sympathy for any victim of sexual abuse."
Byron said no claims of sexual misconduct have been made against Knoth during his tenure in New Orleans.
Although he lived and worked in New Orleans, Knoth remained a member of the Jesuits' Chicago province and was subject to its administrative control
The complaint involving Knoth "came to the province's attention in the last several months," said the Rev. James P. Gschwend, who led the internal investigation in Chicago.
He declined to be more specific and would not say whether the complaint cites a single incident or more.
The results of the investigation by the Chicago province were given to an eight-person advisory board comprising five laypersons two priests and a nun, Gschwend said. Knoth and his accuser both appeared before the board.
Questions of prosecution
In his own statement on Knoth's resignation, New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes said he was told the review board found the complaint credible, a judgment supported by the Rev. Richard Baumann, the most recent superior of the Chicago province who has just been transferred, Gschwend said.
Hughes, who said he was surprised and saddened at the news, had no role in evaluating the merits of the complaint, archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. William Maestri said.
Hughes was told of Baumann's decision Sunday. "I want to express my prayers for Father Knoth" as well as for victims of sexual abuse, Hughes said.
Hughes has tried to reach Knoth several times but apparently without success, Maestri said.
It was unclear Tuesday whether the incident, alleged to have occurred 17 years ago, could still interest prosecutors.
Asked whether the Jesuits had contacted Indianapolis law enforcement officials about the complaint, Gschwend said the province's attorney had contacted Brebeuf's counsel.
"We asked our attorney to do what was necessary, and my understanding is that's the procedure he followed," Gschwend said.
Meanwhile, Brebeuf officials learned of the case only this morning, just hours before the announcement at Loyola, said Janet Arnold, the school's vice president for institutional advancement. She said she did not know whether the school had called local law enforcement.
The Marion County, Ind., district attorney's office said it had no record of a criminal complaint or investigation involving Knoth.
Knoth to take leave
Under new church procedures approved by the Vatican late last year, subjects of credible allegations are indefinitely relieved of priestly duties. That means Knoth cannot say Mass publicly, cannot marry or bury even friends and family, and cannot identify himself as a priest.
Moreover, Knoth is taking a leave from his Jesuit community, Gschwend said.
"That means he'll be living on his own outside a Jesuit community and taking time away from his responsibilities," he said.
"People do various things according to one's needs at a time like this. If you understand anything, you have to know that we have the greatest concern for him and we're providing for him at this time.
"We'll provide for him. We are his family; we care for him. We have feelings of care and concern."
Under church law, Knoth is free to contest the allegation in a church court. However, such courts historically have dealt almost exclusively with requests for marriage annulments, and in many parts of the country their canon lawyers and judges are not yet fully trained to hear sex-abuse cases.
In any event, Gschwend said he did not know whether Knoth intends to go to court.
Should he elect not to, his priesthood is permanently over under the American church's new laws mandating that a single instance of sexual abuse of a minor is grounds for permanent removal.
Loyola unaware upon hiring
Expressing thanks to the Loyola community and to city residents, Knoth said in a prepared statement, "Loyola is a strong institution, blessed with committed trustees, a distinguished faculty, a dedicated staff, superb students and alumni. It has been my honor to serve them."
Donna Fraiche, chairwoman of Loyola's board, said that although the alleged incident occurred long before Knoth became Loyola's president, the complaint wasn't made known even to Knoth until "sometime in the recent past" and couldn't have been considered when Loyola hired him.
Under Knoth's leadership, the 5,900-student university has built a new library, parking garage and dorm, revamped orientation for freshmen, adopted more sophisticated student recruiting techniques and helped launch a community service alliance among Louisiana colleges.
Knoth re-emphasized Loyola's Jesuit heritage in teaching social justice values, saying at the time of his hiring, "We must work together to provide our students with a firm ethical and moral grounding, rooted in faith and an understanding of Gospel justice."
A chain smoker known to be witty in social gatherings and adept at media relations, Knoth has pushed successful fund-raising drives and marketing programs, but occasionally he has been called abrasive and authoritarian. Knoth drew criticism soon after becoming Loyola's president when he discouraged debate about the corporate practices in Indonesia of university benefactor Freeport-McMoRan, and last semester faced a revolt from staffers at the Maroon student newspaper when he killed its story about the unexplained departure of a music program director.
News shocks campus
News of Knoth's resignation stunned the Uptown campus, attracting a crowd of students to the building where news crews gathered.
"It's hard to say what the fallout will be on the life of the university," said Anthony DeCuir, associate dean of the college of music, saying he was concerned about the impact on student recruitment.
Born in Chicago and raised in Indianapolis suburbs, Knoth came to Loyola from Georgetown University, where he was dean of an undergraduate school of arts and sciences. He served as administrator of Brebeuf Preparatory, his alma mater, through most of the 1980s.
Byron, a former president of the University of Scranton and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., is familiar with Loyola in New Orleans, having served as its arts and sciences dean from 1973 to '75 and as a Loyola board member from 1983 to '89. He was recently reappointed to the board, before the allegation against Knoth surfaced.
Agreeing to serve as Loyola's chief until a new president can be named, perhaps by the end of the current academic year, Byron, an economist, also is working on a book on ethics in corporate life.
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