Man Sues Former Nun, Alleges Sexual Abuse 35 Years Ago

By Jon Frank
Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
February 24, 2004

A man who claims he was sexually abused by a nun 35 years ago at a Virginia Beach Catholic school filed suit Monday against the former nun, her diocese and the convent to which she belonged.

The man, now in his 40s, seeks $5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages .

The lawsuit, filed in Norfolk Circuit Court, names as defendants the former nun, Eileen M. Rhoads, the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the Convent of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Rhoads, now 64, was indicted this month by a Virginia Beach grand jury on felony counts of enticing a child to fondle or feel her genitals and taking indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14.

She was arrested Feb. 10 in a Philadelphia suburb. She was released from the Virginia Beach jail on $25,000 bond and allowed to return to Pennsylvania.

Rhoads was known as Sister Francis Therese when she taught at St. Gregory the Great School in Virginia Beach .

The lawsuit names the alleged victim, but The Virginian-Pilot does not report the names of sexual assault victims without their permission.

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse occurred during the 1969-1970 school year. The alleged victim was 10 years old at the time.

During that school year, the lawsuit says, Rhoads "manipulated her personal and fiduciary position ? to befriend the plaintiff and gain his trust."

Rhoads, according to the lawsuit, "during and after the school day and in the classroom ? repeatedly and without consent forced the plaintiff to touch her genital parts and other parts of her body ? for her own perverted gratification and to the severe emotional, psychological, and physical detriment of plaintiff."

The lawsuits alleges that Rhoads also "touched plaintiff's body, including his genital parts" and "engaged in and subjected plaintiff to other perverse acts."

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.

Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey L. Bryant III has said that the case against Rhoads is strong.

The alleged victim's attorney, James C. Lewis of Virginia Beach, said Monday he could not comment on the lawsuit.

"The victim wants the justice system to do its job for him," Lewis said. "He's taking this action, in large part, in the hopes that this abuse won't happen to anyone else."

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond did not return a telephone call Monday. A spokesman for the diocese has said that few records were kept on Rhoads or other nuns.

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. Most have been priests.


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