FORT WAYNE, Ind. — A northern Indiana priest has admitted to sexually abusing a child in Africa about 20 years ago, a bishop told the priest’s former parishioners.
The Rev. Cornelius Ryan, when confronted June 10 by church officials, “immediately and freely admitted the allegations made,” Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Catholic Diocese told members of St. Joseph Catholic Church-Hessen Cassel at Mass on Saturday evening, The Journal Gazette reported.
A directory of Holy Cross priests says 76-year-old Ryan was based in Fort Portal, Uganda, from 1967 until 1999. He also served in Kenya before returning to the order’s provincial house in South Bend in 2001.
Rhoades appointed Ryan the administrator of the Fort Wayne parish in December 2011 after his predecessor, the Rev. Thomas Lombardi, was removed because of a sexual abuse allegation. The abuse by Lombardi was alleged to have taken place at a previous parish.
“I know of no other parish in our diocese that has had to undergo such a difficult trial as you are undergoing,” Rhoades told parishioners. “In my 8½ years as a bishop, I don’t think I have ever faced a more painful situation than that which you are experiencing here.”
At the end of the Mass, Rhoades gave parents with young children a chance to leave before he discussed Ryan’s case.
“The church has learned the hard way this past decade that the welfare of children must not take a back seat to the reputation of the church or even the reputation of a particular priest,” he said.
Rhoades quoted a letter that the Rev. Thomas O’Hara, provincial superior of the Holy Cross order, sent him on Thursday.
“No one wants to believe someone as beloved as Father Ryan is capable of committing sexual abuse,” O’Hara wrote, “but we also must face what now is fact, and move toward comforting and reconciling with the victim of the abuse who needs our pastoral support and prayers. Father Ryan is very remorseful and understands the actions taken by you and I are justified. He is in need of our prayers as well.”
Rhoades told members of the congregation he loved them and fought back emotion before asking the patron of the church, St. Joseph, to watch over the parish.
“It’s hard for him,” parishioner Dave Rudny said of Rhoades. “It’s the second time he’s had to do this at the church.”
Marilyn Sorg, 83, was shocked by what she heard.
“It’s really hard to accept because he was such a wonderful man. My grandkids go to school here, and they just idolized him,” she said.