Bishop Kevin Rhoades to release names of abusive priests to ‘begin the process of healing’

Bishop Kevin Rhoades

Saying “the protection of children is our No. 1 priority,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades Friday vowed to collect release the names of priests within the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese who have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

The afternoon press conference came in the wake of the recent release of a report by a Pittsburgh grand jury detailing more than 1,000 victims of alleged sexual abuse, rape, impregnation, coerced abortion and other crimes committed by 301 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. Rhoades was bishop in Harrisburg before succeeding John D’Arcy as Fort Wayne-South Bend bishop in 2009, and is mentioned in the report in connection with his handling of two cases — both of which occurred before becoming Harrisburg bishop.

“The details (of the report) are equally appalling and heartbreaking. One can only imagine the pain and anguish inflicted by these abusive priests,” Rhoades said from a prepared text. “To the victims and their families, I offer my heartfelt sympathy and support . . . The church failed you. For that, I apologize.”

Rhoades said he has removed three priests since coming to Indiana and while in Harrisburg punished abusive priests and notified authorities of their actions. In one of the cases in which Rhoades was involved while in Harrisburg, however, he seemed to suggest the priest’s identify should not be revealed. “Were this information to become known . . . great public scandal would arise within the diocese,” he wrote. Rhoades explained in a report to the grand jury that “one of the key purposes of imposing ecclesiastical penalties is ‘repair of scandal’ and noted use of that word could easily be misunderstood. Friday, however, he acknowledged such secrecy was a mistake.

“It wasn’t the practice then (to make names known). But now I would,” Rhoades said.

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Releasing the names of abusive priests in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese will take weeks, he said, because the accusations must be thoroughly reviewed to make sure the public list is accurate. The names, he said, should be “for all to see for everyone to know the pain caused by these priests. It’s my hope that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing.” Only 25 percent of the dioceses in the United States follow a similar policy, he said, noting that disclosure of names in Pennsylvania has caused additional victims to come forward.

Rhoades also said he would never allow a priests credibly accused of misconduct to serve in his diocese, and said he was confident he would know of such allegations had they occurred. He said these and other safeguards assure that Catholic churches, schools and institutions are safe for children. “We strictly adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on abuse. All allegations result in immediate notifications to local law enforcement or Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect hotline,” he said. “As leaders, we have an obligation to protect the vulnerable who cannot protect themselves.”