Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades has been "cleared of any wrongdoing" after an investigation into reported "odd" behavior stemming from his time in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Rhoades is currently the bishop for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The person who made the recent report about Rhoades "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," according to Dauphin County District Attorney Francis T. Chardo.
An August report stated that more than 300 predator priests had abused more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses. Forty-five of the priests named in the report served in the Harrisburg diocese.
From Dauphin County District Attorney Francis T. Chardo:
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. to protect the privacy of his family. We are not using J.T.'s name because the report by a member his family was made confidentially and without the expectation that it would be publicly aired. No witness has alleged observing any criminal or improper conduct by Bishop Rhoades with respect to J.T. Bishop Rhoades and the family of J.T. fully cooperated in the investigation.
J.T. turned 18 years old in July 1988. His parents were members of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Harrisburg. Bishop Rhoades had no connection to St. Francis of Assisi Parish until July 1988, when he returned from his second extended assignment in Rome. Then-Father Rhoades served in Rome from 1979 to 1983 and from 1985 to 1988. Bishop Rhoades 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.
The first time Father Rhoades met J.T. was at the Dauphin County Prison in 1990. During the first quarter of that year, while at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Father Rhoades spoke to J.T.’s mother. She indicated that her son was an inmate in the Dauphin County Prison and asked Father Rhoades to visit him. At the time, J.T. was 19 years old. Dauphin County Prison records indicate that J.T. was continuously confined at the prison from December 28, 1989, until April 6, 1990. These records coincide with Bishop Rhoades’ independent recollection of events. He later attended at least one of J.T.’s court proceedings and told the court that, if released, J.T. could do his community service at the parish. According to Dauphin County Prison records, on April 6, 1990, Judge Sebastian D. Natale granted parole to J.T. and he was released from the prison.
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. Father Rhoades planned to stay with relatives of a family of the parish. 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 is married and has a family. 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. J.T. died on October 19, 1996. At the request of J.T.’s parents, then-Father Rhoades presided at the funeral mass.
Detectives interviewed J.T.’s mother who corroborated Bishop Rhoades’ account. She confirmed that the trip to Puerto Rico occurred when her son was in his twenties. She never had any indication of sexual contact between J.T. and Father Rhoades. J.T.’s father died in 2013 at the age of 84.
This investigation began with a report to the Harrisburg Diocese by one of J.T.’s cousins. The cousin reported his recollection that Father 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.
Upon re-interview, 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.
We have determined that Bishop Rhoades’ travel to Puerto Rico with J.T. and another man considering the priesthood occurred when J.T. was an adult. 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.
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.
We encourage reports of any suspicion of the abuse of a child to law enforcement and ChildLine (1-800-932-0313). But 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.
From the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend:
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend appreciates the swift and thorough investigation into the unsubstantiated allegation against Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. As anticipated, the investigation exonerated Bishop Rhoades. The district attorney found the allegation was without merit and stated, “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.” The relationship in question was, “in the context of pastoral care and arose out of the recognized tradition of prison ministry.”
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.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend stands firm in sympathy and support for all victims of child sexual abuse and encourages victims to report allegations. Bishop Rhoades expresses his gratitude for the support he has received from parishioners during the past week. He states, “I have offered up the pain of this difficult time for the victim survivors of child sexual abuse.”