Sorrow at Loyola

Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
October 16, 2003

This is, for sure, a sad time at Loyola University.

The Rev. Bernard Knoth, the well-liked and undeniably successful president of the school, was forced to resign last week after an allegation was made that he sexually abused a student at an Indiana high school in 1986. At the time, he was principal at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis.

Not much is known publicly about the accusation, but his religious superior and a panel of five laypeople, two priests and a nun concluded that there is reason to believe the complaint is true.

The Rev. Knoth has denied the allegation, and in time may defend his name and proclaim his innocence in a special church court. At the end of such a proceeding the accusation made against him could be declared "unproven."

However, the fact that the Jesuit investigatory panel found the allegation credible left the order with no choice but to do what it has done: remove the Rev. Knoth from his priestly duties.

Once that decision was made, the Loyola board of trustees had no alternative either. According to the university's bylaws, the president at Loyola must be a Jesuit priest in good standing. Therefore, when the Jesuits barred him from acting as a priest, the Rev. Knoth could no longer keep his job.

On the same day his resignation was announced, the board named the Rev. William Byron as acting president of the university.

The Rev. Byron, a former dean at Loyola and a current trustee, has the unenviable task of leading a campus still in the initial stages of grief -- and anger. The Rev. Knoth enjoyed a positive reputation on campus, and there are a sizable number of people who are convinced that he has been falsely accused and therefore shouldn't have been forced to resign.

Considering the humiliation he has already suffered, it would indeed be an awful thing if the Rev. Knoth has been falsely accused. At the same time, it should be clear why Catholic officials have to err on the side of caution. Until the relatively recent past, church officials in this country seemed more preoccupied with protecting accused priests than they were with protecting victims and potential victims from abuse.

Rather than being removed from their positions of power, too many priests were instead transferred to other parishes where some of them were yet again accused of abuse. After a great deal of justified criticism of those practices, Catholic Church officials devised a new set of rules that called for prompt action.

Now, if church officials decide that a sexual abuse allegation made against a priest is credible, he is indefinitely relieved of his priestly duties. He cannot say Mass or identify himself as a priest.

Again, if he contests the charge and it is found to be false, Bernard Knoth may be able to resume his priestly duties. A canon lawyer who is not involved in this particular case said the finding against the Rev. Knoth is not a determination of guilt. He may yet prevail in a church court.

Certainly, no one wants the allegation made against him to be true. Not only for Bernard Knoth's sake, but also for the sake of the alleged victim.

And also for the sake of a student body that loves him. During his nine years at Loyola, Bernard Knoth modernized campus facilities and made the university much more competitive. Let us hope that he didn't do what he is accused of having done in 1986. Let us hope that he is as decent as he appeared to be.

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