|Former Loyola President Emerges
Ex-Priest out of Sight since Sex Abuse Charge
By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
January 30, 2007
Bernard Knoth, the former Jesuit priest and Loyola University president whose abrupt resignation three years ago on a sexual abuse charge stunned the city, has launched a civilian career as an executive recruiter in Florida.
Global Recruiters Network of Sarasota lists Knoth as a member of its team with experience in finance and education administration. A photo of Knoth in a blazer and open-neck shirt accompanies his résumé for the benefit of prospective clients.
Contacted by e-mail, Knoth, who remains connected to the Jesuit order but is forbidden to wear the collar or minister as a priest, declined a request to be interviewed.
"I am well and working and living in Sarasota," was his e-mailed response.
Knoth abruptly left New Orleans in the autumn of 2003, accused of sexually abusing one or more minors in 1986. Since then, many Loyola faculty said they had no idea of his whereabouts. Periodic Internet searches yielded nothing, until recently.
Paul Palmer, the head of Global Recruiters Network's Sarasota office, cited federal privacy concerns and declined to discuss Knoth's employment without clearance from Knoth. Palmer said in an e-mail that Global Recruiters employed Knoth as an independent subcontractor a little more than two years ago, but declined to elaborate further.
In an earlier conversation, Palmer indicated that he knew the circumstances of Knoth's resignation from Loyola.
"You may assume we did due diligence before his employment," Palmer said, indicating that Global Recruiters checked out Knoth's background.
Knoth's brief biography on the Global Recruiters Network Web site refers to his experience as a dean at Georgetown University and his eight-year presidency of Loyola. But it is silent on the reasons for his departure.
"After leaving Loyola in 2003, Bernie decided on a career change and brought his knowledge of administration and finance to GRN," it said.
Once a leading citizen
Knoth's sudden resignation and departure from New Orleans was one of the most extraordinary episodes in local higher education and a landmark in the Catholic sex abuse scandal.
By virtue of his position, Knoth was one of the leading citizens of New Orleans. Witty and urbane, he had the 5,900-student university humming with physical improvements. He was a gregarious figure on campus, popular with students and many faculty members, although some found him occasionally headstrong and abrasive.
On the morning of Oct. 7, Loyola's unsuspecting board of trustees was summoned to an emergency meeting at a downtown law office.
The trustees were told for the first time that Knoth had been accused months earlier of sexually abusing one or more minors in 1986 when he was president at a Jesuit prep school in Indianapolis. They were also told that his superiors had investigated, found the accusation credible and, in consultation with an eight-member advisory panel, decided to remove Knoth from his ministry as a priest.
As a result, the board was told, the university's bylaws stipulated that Knoth could no longer remain as Loyola's president. Moreover, Knoth at that moment was leaving New Orleans after a brief campus meeting with shocked senior administrators.
A mass e-mail to the Loyola community a few hours later disclosed the developments, along with Knoth's denial of the accusation.
So far as is known, he has not returned to New Orleans since.
The case left Loyola temporarily in an uproar. Knoth's accuser or accusers never identified themselves publicly. Administration officials convened puzzled students to explain what little they knew about the case. There were prayer vigils for Knoth, and in the immediate aftermath, student sentiment ran strongly in his favor.
Although Knoth lived and worked in New Orleans, he was a member of the Jesuits' Chicago province, which handled the complaint and to which he is still connected.
The province Monday released a statement that merely recounted the facts of the case and reported that he had been granted a leave of absence from the order.
"All other details are of a confidential nature between him and the Society," the province's statement said.
The Rev. Ladislas Orsy, a Jesuit canon lawyer and faculty member at Georgetown University law school, said church law provides a process for resolving cases like Knoth's after a preliminary investigation has removed an accused priest from service.
Under that process, the Vatican would have been notified of the complaint. Orsy said that after reviewing it, Rome might take one of several options, including a trial within the order or some sort of administrative procedure.
"And there are so many variations it could take, unless you were on the inside you couldn't tell what happened in the case of any one person," he said.
Orsy said the few known facts of Knoth's situation pose a particular puzzle to an outsider trying to decode his status.
On one hand, he said, Knoth's civilian job "is very strong evidence that some process has been completed."
Yet Orsy said the fact that the Jesuits continue to carry him on leave could mean the process is ongoing and there has not been a formal resolution. "But that would be strange after three years," he said.
The status of the process, its outcome and Knoth's status remain secret -- and may always remain so, he said.
"There is a process, yes," Orsy said. "But, unfortunately, there's no openness about the process itself."
Bruce Nolan can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3344
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