A Pennsylvania district attorney cleared Roman Catholic Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. The official expressed chagrin over widespread speculation about the bishop that sought to link him to alleged improprieties. “After a full investigation, the Dauphin County District Attorney has determined that there is no basis to conclude that Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades ever engaged in a criminal or otherwise improper relationship with a person whom we will refer to as J.T.,” according to a Sept. 13 statement issued by Francis Chardo, Dauphin County district attorney.

The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese noted its appreciation of “the swift and thorough investigation into the unsubstantiated allegation against Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. As anticipated, the investigation exonerated Bishop Rhoades.”

The diocese said it “stands firm in sympathy and support for all victims of child sexual abuse and encourages victims to report allegations.”

“This has been a case of a public airing of mere speculation of impropriety with no foundation," Chardo declared in a statement. "In this case, the leaking of what turned out to be an unfounded report did unnecessary harm. This has done a disservice to actual victims of sexual abuse. It has also caused significant and unnecessary harm to Bishop Rhoades. “We encourage reports of any suspicion of the abuse of a child to law enforcement and ChildLine," Chardo continued. "But once reports are made... they should be fully investigated without public speculation about guilt...Here, we found no evidence of wrongdoing. We now regard this case as closed."


The story goes that a cousin of J.T. had contacted the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to report that Bishop Rhoades had travelled with J.T. when the latter was a minor. The cousin contended that this was odd and thus was compelled to report it. Harrisburg is the seat of Dauphin County. J.T. died in 1996. The suggestion of an impropriety imputed to Rhoades was subsequently leaked to the media.

In response, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend stated that “While it’s important that allegations be brought forward, it’s equally important for due process to take place. The result of this investigation underscores the importance of allowing appropriate authorities to determine credibility of accusations before the reputation of any individual is impugned in the court of public opinion.”

Dauphin County District Attorney Chardo stated: “This has been a case of a public airing of mere speculation of impropriety with no foundation. In this case, the leaking of what turned out to be an unfounded report did unnecessary harm. This has done a disservice to actual victims of sexual abuse. It has also caused significant and unnecessary harm to Bishop Rhoades.”

Chardo encouraged “reports of any suspicion of the abuse of a child to law enforcement,” and added that “once reports are made to proper authorities, they should be fully investigated without public speculation about guilt. Where appropriate, we will bring charges. Here, we found no evidence of wrongdoing. We now regard this case as closed.”

J.T. reached the age of 18 in July 1988. Chardo said that Rhoades was not affiliated with J.T.'s parish until that month, and stated that the future bishop “would have had no opportunity to even meet J.T. before July 1988. In fact, he did not meet J.T. until almost two years later.” It was in 1990 that Rhoades first met J.T. at the Dauphin County Prison, Chardo stated. It was J.T.'s mother who asked Rhoades to visit him. The county jail’s recorded accorded with Rhoade's recollection of events. 

On April 6, 1990, J.T. was paroled after Rhoades told a court that J.T. could perform community service at his parish. “During the time that J.T. was doing community service and spending time at St. Francis Parish, Father Rhoades decided to make a trip to Puerto Rico,” Chardo wrote. “A friend of Father Rhoades, a teacher, who was considering the priesthood, also made the trip. Upon learning of the impending travel to Puerto Rico, J.T. asked if he could also join the trip so that he could visit his grandmother there. Father Rhoades agreed. All three men made the trip to Puerto Rico and there was no sexual or intimate contact between them. We interviewed the teacher by telephone as he lives in England … He confirmed Bishop Rhoades’ account of the trip and that there was no sexual or intimate contact between Father Rhoades and anyone else during the trip.”

Detectives also interviewed J.T.'s mother, who “corroborated Bishop Rhoades’ account,” according to Chardo, and confirmed that the trip to Puerto Rico trip took place when J.T. was in his 20s. She said that she “never had any indication of sexual contact between J.T. and Father Rhoades.”

Chardo noted that the investigation began with a report by one of J.T.'s cousins to the Harrisburg diocese that he recalled Rhoades “had travelled with J.T. to Puerto Rico twice and South America once when J.T. was 13 or 14 years old. The cousin did not witness any sexual or unlawful acts and did not receive information relating any such acts from any source. The cousin merely thought the conduct he remembered was odd and so he felt compelled to report it. The Diocese promptly forwarded the report to the Dauphin County District Attorney.” According to the district attorney, when re-interviewed, “the cousin indicated that he was not certain of the timeframe but he was sure that the contacts between J.T. and Father Rhoades occurred after 1986, based upon a milestone in his own life. He conceded that it may very well have been when J.T. was in his late teens or early twenties.”

“Based upon the records relating to Bishop Rhoades’ assignments and the interviews of Bishop Rhoades and J.T.’s mother, we have determined that Bishop Rhoades first came in contact with J.T. at the request of his mother while J.T. was an adult inmate of the Dauphin County Prison. This contact was in the context of religious outreach to an inmate to provide spiritual guidance.”

Chardo found that the trip to Puerto Rico “occurred when J.T. was an adult” and that “this was the only time that Bishop Rhoades travelled with J.T.”

“The report relating to multiple trips was the result of an honest, mistaken recollection and the passage of nearly three decades. All of Bishop Rhoades’ contact with J.T. was in the context of pastoral care and arose out of the recognized tradition of prison ministry.”

Chardo noted that J.T.'s name was not disclosed “because the report by a member his family was made confidentially and without the expectation that it would be publicly aired,” and added that “no witness has alleged observing any criminal or improper conduct by Bishop Rhoades with respect to J.T., and that “Bishop Rhoades and the family of J.T. fully cooperated in the investigation.”

The Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese noted its appreciation of “the swift and thorough investigation into the unsubstantiated allegation against Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. As anticipated, the investigation exonerated Bishop Rhoades.”

The diocese said it “stands firm in sympathy and support for all victims of child sexual abuse and encourages victims to report allegations.”

Bishop Rhoades commented, “I have offered up the pain of this difficult time for the victim survivors of child sexual abuse.” The 60-year-old Rhoades was ordained to the priesthood in the Harrisburg diocese in 1983 and became bishop in 2004. He then became bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 2009.

Rhoades adamantly denied any wrongdoing when reports that a complaint against him was being considered by the district attorney. It came just weeks after after a grand jury report revealed widespread sex abuse and its cover-up across six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

David Clohessy -- formerly of the Survivors Network for those Abused by priests (SNAP) - said the fact that the accuser was in jail should not damage the credibility of the accusation. "Most abuse victims are traumatized and engage in self-destructive behaviors like addiction and crime," Clohessy said. Urging Rhoades to resign while the investigation went forward, "I urge Catholic officials in Indiana and Pennsylvania to aggressively reach out to others who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes, misdeeds or cover ups, by Rhoades or other clerics." 
 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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