HARRISBURG, Pa. – A Roman Catholic bishop in Indiana was cleared Thursday of suspicions of misconduct involving a former jail inmate he counseled while serving as a Pennsylvania priest in the 1990s.
The prosecutor in Harrisburg said Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades never engaged in a criminal or otherwise improper relationship with the man.
District Attorney Fran Chardo said "what turned out to be an unfounded report did unnecessary harm."
The Indiana diocese said the findings showed why the credibility of accusations needs to be determined before someone's reputation is impugned.
A state grand jury report released last month found about 300 "predator priests" had abused children at six Pennsylvania dioceses since the late 1940s.
It did not allege any sexual misconduct by Rhoades. But a cousin of the now-dead former jail inmate contacted authorities with concerns about Rhoades, triggering the investigation.
A hotline run by the state attorney general's office has received more than 1,000 calls since the report was released, and church officials have put several Pennsylvania priests on inactive status while new claims are being investigated.
"I have offered up the pain of this difficult time for the victim survivors of child sexual abuse," Rhoades said in a statement released by the Indiana diocese on Thursday.
Chardo called it "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."
Rhoades was Harrisburg bishop from 2004-09, and became Fort Wayne-South Bend bishop in January 2010.