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  Former Nun Convicted of 2 Felony Sex Crimes

By Jon Frank jon.frank@pilotonline.com
The Virginian-Pilot
July 15, 2004

VIRGINIA BEACH - The former nun accused of molesting a 10-year-old fifth-grader at a Catholic school 35 years ago was convicted Wednesday of two felony sex crimes.

Eileen M. Rhoads, 65, was rushed out of the Virginia Beach Circuit Court building by her attorney, William H. "Happy" O'Brien, after she entered an "Alford" plea to taking indecent liberties with a child and enticement of a child.

In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge.

Judge Edward W. Hanson Jr. will formally sentence Rhoads on Sept. 22.

She faces up to 10 years in prison.

She made the Alford plea because a straight guilty plea "would present problems with other pending litigation," O'Brien said.

The crimes took place during the 1969-1970 school year at St. Gregory the Great Catholic School. Rhoads was known then as Sister M. Frances Therese.

She was an active sister in the Religious Order of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary .

Evidence entered into court Wednesday indicates that at least three male students and a female student were involved in illicit behavior with Rhoads or were encouraged by Rhoads to involve themselves in illicit behavior with each other.

Rhoads fondled and kissed some of the children and encouraged the children to touch her, according to court records.

She did most of this during or after class. Some of the activity took place in a school closet. Rhoads also shared pornographic material with the children.

Rhoads will remain out on a $25,000 bond until sentencing.

She was living in Pennsylvania when the Beach allegations surfaced in February.

She turned herself in and was extradited to Virginia.

Soon after that, similar accusations surfaced in Pennsylvania, where Rhoads became a lay teacher in a Catholic school after leaving Virginia.

The events in Pennsylvania are alleged to have occurred six years after the Virginia Beach case. Victims in those cases have filed civil lawsuits that detail the alleged abuse.

Some of the abuse allegedly involved two males who were in a sixth-grade class taught by Rhoads at Holy Cross Parish Elementary School in Springfield, Pa.

The lawsuits claim that Rhoads sexually molested or abused the boys "on practically a daily basis."

Rhoads allegedly took one of the boys to her apartment and forced him to have intercourse with her at least 30 times, according to the lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania lawsuits filed on behalf of the male victims seek unspecified damages from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who led the archdiocese from 1988 until 2003.

A third alleged Pennsylvania victim, who is a woman , filed a civil lawsuit against Rhoads in May .

The Beach victim, now in his 40s, has filed a civil lawsuit against Rhoads, the Richmond diocese and the convent, seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

The lawsuit, filed in Norfolk Circuit Court, names the alleged victim. The Virginian-Pilot does not report the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.

According to the lawsuit, the diocese and the nun's religious order "knew or should have known that the Defendant Rhoads was a pedophile or was otherwise disposed to sexually abusing others, but did not separate Rhoads from children of tender years."

As a result of the abuse, the plaintiff suffered injuries including marital problems, crying spells and sleep disturbances.

The alleged victim suppressed memories of the abuse until about two years ago, according to the lawsuit.

Although estimates vary according to the source, sexual abuse cases within the Catholic Church in the United States are thought to approach 2,000.

Nuns have rarely been identified as perpetrators.

A spokesman for the Richmond diocese has said that few records were kept on Rhoads or other nuns.

 
 

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