Bishop Rhoades Shares Latest on Priest Sexual Abuse Allegations

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

December 15, 2011 Updated Dec 16, 2011 at 12:32 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) -- Bishop Kevin Rhoades, the leader of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, shared the latest information involving allegations of sexual abuse against Fr. Thomas Lombardi Thursday night.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades says investigators are "going by the book” when it comes to the investigation, following what the Catholic Church calls, “The Charter.” “The Charter” is in place to protect children and young people alleging sexual abuse. Every diocese has its own policy called the “Canonical Process,” by which leaders abide.

Bishop Rhoades says the process includes conducting a preliminary investigation, where both the accuser and the accused share testimony. Rhoades says the process and investigation are on-going, and both the victim and Fr. Lombardi have testified. Fr. Lombardi is currently staying at an undisclosed church rectory, pending the investigation. In the meantime, Bishop Rhoades says another priest has been appointed temporary administrator at St. Joseph Hessen Cassel Catholic Church to oversee pastoral care.

“Our No. 1 priority is always the protection of our young people,” Bishop Rhoades said. “[We’re] being very concerned and trying to do our best to determine the future in this situation, and it’s a very difficult situation obviously.”

Bishop Rhoades says he's also been working with the Diocesan Review Board, made up of law enforcement, lawyers, psychologists and a priest. The Diocesan Review Board gives expert advice on how to proceed with the investigation. Rhoades says he didn't have to report the allegations to law enforcement, but felt it was the right thing to do. Bishop Rhoades says he wanted to follow civil and canonical law to show fairness to both parties.

“We have to seek justice when it comes to a matter as serious as this,” Bishop Rhoades said. “So we have to be very careful that we don’t make presumptions before the investigation is completed. That would be premature.”

In response to the written public statement made a couple weeks ago by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) demanding answers and details surrounding the sexual abuse allegations, and urging him to visit Fr. Lombardi’s past parishes for more information, Bishop Rhoades says his No. 1 priority is protecting the accuser.

“What I found upsetting about SNAP is they were demanding information that would risk the confidentiality that the accuser has asked for. They're supposed to be a victims' advocacy group, you know? And I'm thinking to myself, 'Well, I'm doing all I can to help the person who's come forward.' So, it just struck me as disingenuous on their part,” Bishop Rhoades said.

This weekend Bishop Rhoades says he will celebrate Mass at St. Joe Hessen Cassel, and plans to address the congregation on the issue. However, he says he will not visit other parishes where Fr. Lombardi has served, because it is not part of the process.

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