In the aftermath of last month’s wide-ranging grand jury report revealing sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania, the current bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has denied an allegation of misconduct while serving in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
In a statement Thursday, the Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades “adamantly” denied “any validity to this accusation and the insinuation of inappropriate behavior.”
He said he “did nothing wrong” and is “confident any investigation will bear this out.”
The statement was issued after the Diocese of Harrisburg on Thursday confirmed it had received a single allegation of misconduct by Rhoades.
In a statement, the diocese reported the allegation was immediately referred to the Dauphin County district attorney and PA ChildLine, the statewide child abuse hotline, as required by law and church policy.
“We would stress that this is an allegation,” said Mike Barley, a diocesan spokesman. “We will have no further comment until the investigation of the Office of the District Attorney is concluded,”
District Attorney Fran Chardo Friday did not return a call from the Journal Gazette seeking more information.
However, press reports in Pennsylvania quote Chardo as saying the allegation concerns Rhoades’ relationship with a male who died in 1996. The person was around 18 when the alleged improper conduct occurred, the reports say.
“The report alleged that they perceived the relationship as odd. But they did not witness any inappropriate conduct,” Chardo told PennLive, an online newspaper in Harrisburg.
“It’s early on, but the victim is long dead. A firsthand account would not be possible.”
Chardo told the York Daily Record that the allegation came from a family member of the alleged victim, who said Rhoades, then a priest, would have known the young man before and after he turned 18.
No crime was alleged, Chardo told the newspaper, but the district attorney’s office is following up to make sure no crime was committed.
Chardo also said he believed the allegation was prompted by the grand jury report and said calls to his office alleging crimes by Catholic priests have increased since the report came out.
Rhoades, 60, served as bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg between 2004 and 2009, when he was appointed bishop of the local diocese. He was installed in early 2010.
Rhoades was a priest in two parishes in the Harrisburg diocese and assistant chancellor to Harrisburg’s bishop between 1983 and 1995, when he left to join the faculty of Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He also served as seminary rector during his time there.
The parishes were St. Patrick in York and Saint Francis of Assisi in Harrisburg. Rhoades’ service to then-Bishop William Keeler occurred from 1998 to 1990. Rhoades grew up in Lebanon in the diocese.
The grand jury report, released Aug. 14 found 300 priests had molested more than 1,000 minors in six Pennsylvania dioceses, including Harrisburg’s. It has resulted in nearly 1,000 calls to a hotline set up by Pennsylvania’s attorney general.
In the report, Rhoades was named in incidents involving two priests, William Presley and Francis Bach. Through a written statement by his attorney, Rhoades said he dealt with the allegations by reporting them to church and civil authorities and making sure the priests were punished.
The alleged abuse occurred years before Rhoads was bishop. Although Rhoades at the time urged not making information known because it would cause “great public scandal” in the diocese, he has maintained he did so to stress that the serious nature of the priests’ behavior justified their removal from priesthood.
Last month, Rhoades said he acted to protect children both while in Harrisburg and locally.
“I have upheld an unwavering commitment to child safety, closely following a policies and procedures put in place to punish those responsible for abuse,” he said in a press release before the release of the grand jury report.
Rhoades apologized to victims of clergy abuse in a news conference and pledged to release the names of “credibly accused” priests in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
That list has not yet been released.