Former Harrisburg Bishop Kevin Rhoades Is Accused of Misconduct, Possibly of a Sexual Nature; Bishop Denies
By Ivey DeJesus
September 6, 2018
In the wake of a blistering report on clergy sex abuse, former Harrisburg Diocese bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has been accused of misconduct - possibly of a sexual nature.
The Diocese of Harrisburg on Thursday confirmed that an allegation of misconduct had recently been filed against Rhoades. Diocesan officials said they reported the allegation to PA ChildLine and the office of the Dauphin County District Attorney.
"We would stress that this is an allegation," diocesan spokesman Mike Barley said in a statement to PennLive Thursday. "We will have no further comment until the investigation of the Office of the District Attorney is concluded."
Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo said his office is investigating the allegation against Rhoades. Rhoades has not been charged.
A statement to PennLive from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., where Rhoades is now bishop said: "Bishop Rhoades adamantly denies any validity to this accusation and the insinuation of inappropriate behavior. He did nothing wrong, and is confident any investigation will bear this out."
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind. includes the University of Notre Dame.
Chardo said the victim, a male, died in 1996 and was around the age of 18 when the alleged incident happened.
"It's early on but the victim is long dead," Chardo said. "A first hand account would not be possible."
Chardo said his office received the report last month. He said his office has seen an increase in the number of reports alleging crimes involving Catholic priests since the grand jury report was released last month.
"The report alleged that they perceived the relationship as odd," Chardo said. "But they did not witness any inappropriate conduct."
A source familiar with the information but requesting anonymity said the victim was once an inmate of the Dauphin County Prison.
Chardo said the allegation could fall within the statute of limitations.
Now 60, Rhoades was bishop in Harrisburg from 2004 to 2009 and prior to that a diocesan priest. Rhoades was the youngest bishop in the country when he was named to the Harrisburg post.
The accusation comes weeks after a grand jury report unearthed widespread clergy sex abuse and its cover-up across six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
Only a handful of bishops or senior church officials have faced criminal charges relating to sexual abuse or covering it up. But it's the second time in a week that a Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania has referred an accusation regarding a bishop to law enforcement.
On Wednesday, the Diocese of Pittsburgh made a report to the District Attorney of Allegheny County after receiving an allegation of sexual misconduct against then-Monsignor Anthony G. Bosco dating from the late 1960s.
Bosco was bishop of the Greensburg diocese from 1987 until his retirement in 2004. He died in 2013. The complaint alleges inappropriate touching of a nursing student while he was a chaplain and instructor at the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing.
Rhoades, a Lebanon native, worked as a priest in the Harrisburg diocese for several years before becoming bishop.
He began his tenure in the Harrisburg Diocese at St. Patrick's Catholic Church in York in 1983. Five years later, he became assistant chancellor under then-Bishop William Keeler. He was appointed pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in 1990 and served there until 1995, when he accepted a full-time faculty position with Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, eventually becoming rector.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him the ninth bishop of Harrisburg. He was 46 years old and the nation's youngest bishop. During his tenure, he announced that Bishop McDevitt High School would be moved out of the city of Harrisburg to Lower Paxton Township.
His departure from the Harrisburg diocese and move to Indiana caught some by surprise. Rhoades led the Harrisburg diocese for just five years, a shorter time span than most of his predecessors. He was installed in January 2010 as the ninth bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.
Rhoades had succeeded Nicholas C. Dattilo, who served as eighth bishop of Harrisburg from 1990 until his death in 2004.
Rhoades attended the former Saint Mary's School in Lebanon and graduated from Lebanon Catholic High School in 1975.
The Diocese of Harrisburg is one of six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania included in a statewide grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The report, released last month by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, found that more than 300 priests had for decades sexually molested more than 1,000 children, often unchecked by church officials who knew of the abuse. The report found that church officials covered-up the crimes and failed to report them to law enforcement.
Shapiro has reiterated that the investigation is ongoing and that more victims will come forward. Since the release of the report on Aug. 14, a hotline to report clergy sex abuse has received 933 calls, Shapiro said Wednesday.
Rhoades has repeatedly affirmed that he acted appropriately to protect children during his time in Harrisburg.
"During my time in Harrisburg and now in Fort Wayne-South Bend, I have upheld an unwavering commitment to child safety, closely following all policies and procedures put in place to punish those responsible for abuse," Rhoades said in a press release in August ahead of the release of the grand jury report.
Rhoades was one of the former bishops impacted by the decision of Harrisburg's current bishop, the Rev. Ronald Gainer, to remove all legacy names of predecessors from diocesan property. Gainer asserted that his predecessors dating back to 1947 had failed to protect children from predatory priests.
The grand jury report lists 45 priests from Harrisburg, although three aren't named. That is 27 fewer than the number of priests on a list the diocese released last month.
The grand jury report faulted Rhoades, along with former bishops William Keeler, Nicholas Dattilo and Gainer, for what it deems ineffective handling of reports against a predatory priest.
According to the grand jury report, Rhoades in 2006 wrote that his predecessor, Bishop Nicholas Dattilo "was personally aware" of a predator priest by the name of William Presley. The priest, who had been accused of sexual abuse while serving in the Diocese of Erie, retired to Lancaster, within the Harrisburg diocese, in 2000.
Rhoades also wrote that, "were this information to become known, especially in the light of his offers of public assistance at Mass in several parishes, great public scandal would arise within this diocese."
In August, Rhoades announced he planned to release the names of priests in his current diocese who have been accused of sexually molesting children. He explained that he made his decision in an effort to foster reconciliation and healing among victims.
The allegation against Rhoades comes amid an escalating scandal involving the Catholic Church and the Vatican with revelations of child sex crimes by priests and its cover-up by church officials.
Pope Francis most recently has been accused by a former senior church official of knowing about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick's sexual misconduct. A former archbishop of Washington, McCarrick resigned as cardinal in July after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused boys and harassed or inappropriately touched seminarians.