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‘We wanted this acted upon immediately,’ Bishop Rhoades says regarding allegations of misconduct made against a diocesan pastor
It’s been a difficult few days in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. According to a diocesan statement released Sunday, Sept. 26, the diocese on Sept. 19 “became aware of allegations” that Father David Huneck, pastor of St. Paul of the Cross in Columbia City, Indiana, and chaplain at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne, “engaged in sexual and other misconduct, including that with a minor.”
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, speaking to Our Sunday Visitor on Monday night, explained how, on the same day the diocese became aware of the allegations, it notified the Indiana Department of Child Services — even encouraging their swift communication to local police.
“We wanted this acted upon immediately,” Bishop Rhoades said. In its statement, the diocese said that it was following the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People “for responding effectively, appropriately, and compassionately to all allegations of sexual abuse of minors,” adding, “we are committed to providing a safe environment for all people, especially the young and vulnerable.”
Father Huneck resigned subsequently as pastor of St. Paul of the Cross and as chaplain at Bishop Dwenger. According to the statement, he was also suspended from all public priestly ministry “as a precautionary measure.”
In the interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Bishop Rhoades expressed his own personal sorrow at such an incident taking place in his diocese.
“I have ordained dozens of men to the diaconate and to the priesthood, and this has broken my heart, because [for] no one that I have ordained have I ever received a report of this kind of sexual misconduct,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. “But I have to put my personal hurt, sadness and anger aside. I am the bishop of this diocese, and my primary concern is others.”
As the civil investigation is ongoing, Bishop Rhoades said his first and foremost concern is for the victims.
“I’m not at liberty to talk about specifics, but my heart goes out to them,” he said. He hopes to be able to, at some point, speak to them to offer any help he can for their healing. “I think an initiative on my part would take place after the police have concluded their investigation,” he said. “So my pastoral care, as well as the canonical investigation, would take place after the civil investigation.”
Bishop Rhoades also is greatly concerned about the communities of St. Paul of the Cross and Bishop Dwenger, as well as the priests of the diocese — especially the young priests who were contemporaries of Father Huneck, who was ordained in 2018. He said that he and his staff have been ministering to the people of St. Paul of the Cross and Bishop Dwenger in recent days. Specifically, Father Mark Gurtner, diocesan vicar general, celebrated each Mass at St. Paul of the Cross on the weekend of Sept. 25-26, where Father Huneck had been pastor since 2020, informing parishioners in person. Father Gurtner and Mary Glowaski, the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator and assistant to the bishop in pastoral care, were available after Masses for anyone who wanted to talk to them. An email was sent to Bishop Dwenger parents over the weekend, and members of diocesan staff also were available to the Bishop Dwenger community on Monday.
“I think we acted very quickly, starting with the report to the civil authorities, and then, very appropriately, wanting to inform the parishioners and the Dwenger community before it appeared in the press,” Bishop Rhoades said.
In a press conference on Sept. 28, Bishop Rhoades explained how the diocese was following the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and that it “will continue our own canonical process … while cooperating totally with the investigation by law enforcement.”
Bishop Rhoades is making it a priority to visit the parish and the high school in person to be able to answer any questions that they may have.
“I want the people to know how much I care about them,” he said. “I also want to be there to assure them of my support and how I understand the pain and suffering that they must feel, because I feel it myself.”
“I think one of the most important things is that the students know that the Church is there for them,” Bishop Rhoades added. “A sin such as this, which may be a crime, has ripple effects.”
Bishop Rhoades also met with the young priests of the diocese — those ordained five years ago or fewer — in which he told them, in confidence, about the allegations against Father Huneck. Concerned about possible trauma for his priests, he sent an email about the allegations shortly before they were announced to St. Paul of the Cross parishioners.
This coming weekend, the diocese plans to announce the allegations against Father Huneck to parishioners at his previous parish — St. Jude in Fort Wayne, whose pastor has already been informed. “We wanted to make sure that we did this in a sensitive way so that the people of Columbia City were the first to receive the news after the priests,” Bishop Rhoades said.
“Anything we can do to help those affected by this, we will do,” Bishop Rhoades said. “I am always deeply concerned about their spiritual welfare, the victims and also the parishioners, and the students of Bishop Dwenger High School. If a priest violates his promise of celibacy, and in these types of situations, there’s a ripple effect. That’s how sin works. And yet the grace of God is stronger.”
Bishop Rhoades asked for prayers for all involved. “I trust that God’s grace will prevail. And that’s our calling,” he said. “We have to rid the Church of this sin and move forward with trust in God.”
To reach Mary Glowaski contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 260-399-1458.
The statement from the diocese and the video of the press conference given by Bishop Rhoades can be found online here.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editorial director for periodicals. Follow her @GretchenOSV.