Local bishop responds to grand jury sex abuse investigation

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    A scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report says it's "too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal."

    The report concludes that about 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s.

    It says top church officials have mostly been protected with some even getting promotions.

    Prosecutors found that in nearly every case, the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges has run out.

    More than 100 of the priests are dead.

    Bishop Kevin Rhoades from the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese was serving as bishop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania when some of the cases came to light.

    He's mentioned in that grand jury report.

    The report details his actions in two abuse cases.

    In a statement, Rhoades says when he learned about the allegations against two priests in the Harrisburg diocese, he told his superiors and law enforcement.

    The grand jury report claims Rhoades also cautioned against publicly releasing the information.

    "Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as 'horseplay' and 'wrestling' and 'inappropriate contact.’ It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse,” said Josh Shapiro, attorney general of Pennsylvania.

    Rhoades is mentioned twice in the grand jury's nearly 900-page report.

    The first case involving William Presley, a former student, rector and employee of the University of Notre Dame in the 1970s.

    In 2006, Rhoades recommended that Presley, who was retired by then, be expelled from the priesthood.

    The grand jury report highlights part of his letter to a Vatican official: "Were this information to become known, especially in the light of his offers of public assistance at Mass in serval parishes, great public scandal would arise within this diocese."

    The grand jury report includes a response by Rhoades' attorneys stating parts of his letter were taken out of context.

    In a statement Rhoades says: "I 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."

    The other case where Rhoades is mentioned is that of Francis Bach who admitted to abusing at least 14 minors.

    In a summary written by Rhoades, he suggests that if Bach's case were to go to trial or given publicity, it would cause scandal to many because Bach was still a priest who is "beloved by many in our diocese."

    In both situations neither Presley or Bach were charged because the statute of limitations had passed.

    But Pennsylvania's attorney general says that's something that needs to be changed.

    "No one should be out of the reach of the law, just because they happen to live a particularly long time. If you raped a child, you should be held accountable in a court of law,” said Shapiro.

    Both Presley and Bach have passed away.

    Rhoades called the details of the grand jury report appalling. He extended his sympathy and support for all the victims.

    WSBT 22 asked if there were any current investigations of sexual abuse in our area.

    A spokesperson for the diocese said, "I'm not at liberty to discuss that right now."

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