FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — An Indiana bishop who handled two cases of alleged priest sexual abuse during his previous post in Pennsylvania notified his superiors and law enforcement about those accusations but also warned that if the allegations became public they would create “scandal,” according to a grand jury report released this week.
The Rev. Kevin Rhoades served as bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg from 2004 to 2009, before becoming the bishop of northern Indiana’s Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese.
His handling of sex abuse allegations involving two now-deceased priests is mentioned in a sweeping Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday which found that roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests in that state molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s.
That report , which accuses senior church officials of systematically covering up complaints, states that Rhoades recommended in 2006 that a retired priest accused of abuse, William Presley, be defrocked.
He notified law enforcement about the accusations, but also warned in a letter to a Vatican official that if information about Presley’s “violent behavior” was “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.”
Presley was accused in the report of abusing at least five people between 1963 and 1986, including one victim as young as 13.
In the second case, from 2007, Rhoades again notified his superiors and authorities of the allegations against a then-retired Harrisburg diocesan priest, Francis Bach, who admitted to abusing at least 14 minors, between the ages of 14 and 16, according to the report.
Rhoades wrote that Bach was spending the remainder of his life “in prayer and penance, trying to make reparation for the harm he has caused others through his acts of sexual abuse that occurred early in his priesthood.”
He added, “If his case is now brought to trial or given any kind of publicity, I fear it will cause scandal to many, as he is still a priest who is beloved by many in our diocese.”
The allegations against Bach were first made in 1994, and resulted in his retirement.
According to his lawyers’ response to the grand jury, Rhoades sent a letter to the local prosecutor within 72 hours of the diocese’s receipt of the new allegation against Bach and he also notified the bishop in the Delaware diocese where Bach was living at the time.
The lawyers wrote “there can be no suggestion that Bishop Rhoades intended to keep the allegations secret. In fact, he did the opposite.”
Rhoades’ attorneys also wrote that they take issue with “out of context” quotes from his letters, and chronicled his efforts to punish the priests and notify law enforcement.
In a statement released Tuesday, Rhoades said, “During my time in Harrisburg and now here in Fort Wayne-South Bend, I have upheld an unwavering commitment to child safety, closely following all policies and procedures put in place.”
In both cases mentioned in the report, Rhoades added that he “followed all child protection policies and procedures, notified law enforcement, and took other action as appropriate, since each of the accused priests had already been removed from public ministry due to previous allegations.”
Neither Bach nor Presley was ever criminally charged because the statute of limitations had expired.
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