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  Grand Jury Indictment Awaits Former Nun

By Rose Quinn rquinn@delcotimes.com
The Daily Times [Virginia]
February 12, 2004

Citing "concerns about the defendant’s stability and mental health," authorities in Virginia last week sealed a grand jury indictment against a former nun who lives in Delaware County until her arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a male student more than 30 years ago.

"During the course of the investigation the defendant had to be involuntarily committed as a threat to herself," according to the document released by the Circuit Court of the City of Virginia Beach following Eileen Rhoads’ arrest at her Upper Darby home Tuesday morning.

Commonwealth’s attorney Harvey L. Bryant III told the Virginian-Pilot he would have been hesitant to prosecute the former nun once known as Sr. Francis Therese for sex crimes if the only evidence in the case came from her accuser.

Bryant said Wednesday "that multiple witnesses attest to seeing Eileen Rhoads molest an elementary school student years ago," according to the Virginia newspaper. "I don’t mind saying that we have a strong case."

The allegations of sexual misconduct filed against Rhoads while stationed at a Catholic parish in Virginia Beach have both pained members of her former religious congregation and stunned some neighbors on Stoneybrook Lane in the township’s Drexel Hill section.

Meanwhile members of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Rhoads’ former order, are praying for both Rhoads and the alleged victim.

Rhoads, 64, joined the IHM order in the late 1950s, a congregation whose mission was and continues to be to educate and protect children.

She left the religious life in 1972 for personal reasons unrelated to the allegations filed by authorities in Virginia Beach, according to Sr. Rose Marie DeCarlo, IHM. Sr. Rose is the general superior at the Villa Maria House of Studies in Immaculata, one of three independent motherhouses for the order founded in Monroe, Mich., and where Rhoads joined the congregation.

"Although the alleged misconduct supposedly occurred 35 years ago, we knew nothing of the matter until this past June," Sr. Rose stated in a prepared release. "Since then, the congregation has cooperated fully with the authorities conducting the investigation.

"This is a painful time both for the accused and for the one bringing the accusation. I call upon all our IHM sisters to join me in offering prayers that all who have been affected by this situation may be healed," Sr. Rose stated.

Sr. Rose stated that their thoughts go out especially to the community of St. Gregory the Great School in Virginia Beach. It was there while serving both as a nun and a teacher, Rhoadsallegedly engaged in inappropriate touching with a 10-year-old boy, between Sept. 1, 1969, and June 30, 1970, authorities said.

Two incidents are alleged by the same student, both during and after school, according to Virginia Beach authorities. Rhoads was transferred out of the state a short time after the alleged offenses, authorities said.

According to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Rhoads joined the lay faculty at Holy Cross Grade School in Springfield in 1973, teaching fifth grade until resigning in 1994.

During her time at Holy Cross, no complaint was ever made against Rhoads, according to the diocesan communications office.

One neighbor who described himself as a longtime friend said Rhoads was hospitalized soon after being "laid off" from a lay teaching position at a Catholic grade school in Springfield, a month before the school year ended. Deeming it private business, he said he never asked questions, just lent support.

News of the criminal allegations moved Wilford Roberts, 85, to tears.

"If you knew her, you could not say one thing against that woman," Roberts told the Daily Times Tuesday night.

Rhoads was arrested at her Drexel Hill home Tuesday, charged with child enticement and indecent liberties, both felonies. A grand jury issued an indictment Feb. 2, about a year after investigators first learned of the allegations.

Virginia has no statute of limitations on felonies, according to Sgt. Rick Markle, who heads the Virginia Beach Police Department Special Victim’s Unit.

The statute of limitations for a felony offense in Pennsylvania is 12 years from the time a person making allegations reaches age 18, according to Delaware County District Attorney G. Michael Green.

Green said no similar allegations have been reported locally.

Upper Darby Detective Sgt. Glen Monkman served the fugitive warrant on Rhoads.

"She was very cooperative," Monkman said, noting a detective accompanied him on the call.

She later appeared for an extradition hearing before District Justice Michael G. Cullen. Bail was set at 10 percent of $20,000 and posted. Rhoads has until Friday to surrender to authorities in Virginia Beach.

At the Villa Maria House of Studies, Sr. Marie Roseanne Bonfini, IHM, office of information services, said many knew who Rhoads was, but those who would have known her well have either died or moved away.

According to Sr. Marie Roseanne, all of Rhoads’ records during her membership in the order were turned over to the authorities.

A story published in 2002 by the National Catholic Reporter indicated that over the last decade, at least a dozen lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by nuns have been filed and cases in Minnesota, Vermont, New York and Michigan have been settled. None of them are known to have been prosecuted.

 
 

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