The Journal Gazette
Friday, February 21, 2020 1:00 am

Harrisburg diocese files for Chapter 11

Rhoades' former bishopric hit by abuse-claim payouts



A previous online version of this story should have said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend was cleared of wrongdoing by the Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, district attorney in 2018 following an investigation into a relationship between Rhoades and a young man in the 1990s that a relative of the male reported as “odd.”

The Roman Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania headed at one time by the current bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Diocese of Harrisburg took the step this week, six months after disclosing payments of millions of dollars to people who said they were sexually abused as children by clergy.

The Most Rev. Kevin C. Rhoades headed the Harrisburg diocese from 2004 until being installed as bishop of the local diocese on Jan. 13, 2010. 

The Harrisburg diocese joins at least 20 others across the United States in seeking protection from creditors through federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It is the first diocese in Pennsylvania to take such a step.

Rhoades said through a diocesan spokeswoman Thursday that he had limited knowledge of the filing.

“Bishop Rhoades just read about the bankruptcy and only knows what has been in the news,” Jennifer Simerman, secretary for communications, said in an email

“He has no knowledge of the Diocese of Harrisburg's financial situation since he left there over ten years ago.”

In August, the Harrisburg diocese said it paid 106 people just over $12 million to compensate for claims of sexual abuse involving priests, deacons and seminarians. Officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday the current total is 111 settlements.

The bankruptcy filing said the Harrisburg diocese “faces potentially significant exposure from remaining claimants” and wants Chapter 11 reorganization to provide money for unresolved claims and perform its ministry.

The diocese told the court it has more than 200 creditors and estimated liabilities between $50 million and $100 million, with assets of less than $10 million.

Its listed creditors include a $30 million loan from the Pennsylvania Economic Development Financing Authority and 12 blacked-out names represented by lawyers.

Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Harrisburg diocese said that in 2016, even before the abuse scandal reached it with a grand jury subpoena, his diocese's finances were in a “very challenging condition” and there likely was no other path forward.

Rhoades has not been untouched by the Harrisburg situation. In July, he was named in an unusual Pennsylvania lawsuit that claimed conspiracy and fraud on the part of the diocese because it covered up abuse.

The plaintiff, Barry Asbee, then 67, said he was raped by two priests in the diocese as a boy and diocesan leadership was aware of sexual abuse problems but did not fulfill its obligation to protect him as a parish member and covered up the names of abusing priests.

Asbee was awarded $170,000 but did not take the money. 

Rhoades issued a statement then saying he had done nothing wrong and that Asbee's abuse occurred long before he became bishop. He said he has reacted promptly and appropriately whenever abuse is reported.

Rhoades was cleared of wrongdoing by the Dauphin County district attorney in 2018 following an investigation into a relationship between Rhoades and a young man in the 1990s that a relative of the male reported as “odd.”

The Harrisburg diocese serves about 250,000 Catholics in 89 parishes, spanning 15 counties. Individual parishes are separately incorporated entities and are not part of the bankruptcy, diocesan attorney Matt Haverstick said.

The diocese estimates it faces about 200 additional child sexual abuse claims, counting those that do not involve clergy, Haverstick said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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