Woman Files Abuse Lawsuit against Former Nun, Teacher
By Michelle Washington
The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, Va.)
May 22, 2004
A former nun charged with sexually abusing a student decades ago now faces a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims the nun molested her for nearly six years.
Eileen M. Rhoads , 64, was charged in February in Virginia Beach with taking indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 and enticing a child to fondle or feel her genitals in 1969 and 1970. The victim in that case was a 10-year-old boy who was her student at St. Gregory the Great School. Rhoad s was known then as Sister Francis Therese, and belonged to the religious order of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
The lawsuit filed in Norfolk Circuit Court on Wednesday says the Diocese of Richmond and the order knew about the abuse, and transferred Rhoads to Holy Cross School in Springfield, Pa. Rhoad s became a teacher there in 1973 after resigning from the sisterhood.
Several other lawsuits alleging abuse by Rhoads have been filed in Norfolk and in Pennsylvania, where she now lives.
A church spokeswoman referred questions to the Richmond diocese lawyer, who could not be reached Friday afternoon.
The attorney for the woman who filed Wednesday's lawsuit, Theodore Schwartz in Philadelphia, said the woman was 12 years old and in the sixth grade at Holy Cross School when she met Rhoads. Beginning in 1977, the lawsuit says, Rhoads began sexually abusing the girl, winning her trust by offering her alcohol and drugs. Rhoads told the girl she was old enough to consent to the sex acts, Schwartz said. The abuse continued until the girl's 18th birthday, the lawsuit said, when she told Rhoads she wanted to marry a man and have a family.
The woman told her therapist about Rhoads in 2002. The therapist told her she had been abused, Schwartz said, but the woman defended Rhoads.
She did not believe her therapist's conclusions until February 2004, Schwartz said, when the woman saw news reports in Pennsylvania on the criminal charges Rhoads faced in Virginia.
The lawsuit names the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as plaintiffs. Schwartz said the diocese knew about Rhoads' behavior but did not tell parents.
"They concealed the danger," Schwartz said.
The woman asks for more than $10 million in damages.
Rhoads is scheduled to stand trial on the Virginia Beach criminal charges in July.
n Reach Michelle Washington at
446-2287 or michelle.washington
CORRECTION-DATE: May 25, 2004
A story and headline in Saturday's Hampton Roads section about a sexual-abuse lawsuit misstated the defendants in the case. Eileen M. Rhoads, a former nun accused of abuse, is not a defendant. The defendants are the Catholic Diocese of Richmond and Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Also, the lawyer for the woman who filed the suit said the story should have said the diocese knew or should have known about Rhoads' alleged behavior but did not tell parents. Correction published May 25, 2004, page A2.
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