By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania prosecutor on Thursday cleared a Roman Catholic bishop who presides over an Indiana diocese of wrongdoing after questions arose about a relationship he had with a young man he counselled decades ago.
Investigators found no evidence of wrongdoing by Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne and South Bend, who offered spiritual counselling as a parish priest in Pennsylvania to a young man identified only as J.T., who died in 1996.
"All of Bishop Rhoades’ contact with J.T. was in the context of pastoral care and arose out of the recognised tradition of prison ministry,” Dauphin County District Attorney Francis Chardo said in statement. “We now regard this case as closed.”
The investigation followed the release last month of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found credible evidence of sexual abuse by more than 300 priests dating back for decades.
In many of those cases, which involved more than 1,000 victims, church officials sought to cover up the allegations and often reassigned accused priests to new parishes, the report said.
The Rhoades investigation began after a cousin of J.T. told the Diocese of Harrisburg that he had wondered about J.T.'s relationship with the cleric because they travelled together to Puerto Rico. Rhoades later served as a bishop in Harrisburg.
Rhoades met J.T. in 1990 when the young man's mother asked the priest to counsel her son, who was in prison in Dauphin County.
J.T., then in his 20's, did community service in Rhoades’ parish after his release, according to Chardo.
Chardo said J.T. travelled with Rhoades and another man to Puerto Rico so the young man could visit his grandmother.
The Diocese of Fort Wayne and South Bend said in a statement it was important for allegations of priestly sexual abuse to be reported to authorities, and also important that they not be reported to the public before they are fully investigated and their credibility determined.
“I have offered up the pain of this difficult time for the victim survivors of child sexual abuse,” Rhoades said in the statement.
(Editing By Frank McGurty)