The Rev. Bernard Knoth, S.J.
The Rev. Bernard P. Knoth, S.J., a former associate dean of the College and a one-time candidate to become university president at Georgetown, resigned Tuesday as president of Loyola University New Orleans amid allegations of sexual abuse.
After an investigative committee deemed allegations of sexual abuse credible, Knoth’s Provincial Superior in Chicago removed him from active ministry. Knoth, 54, denied the charges in a written statement, but left campus quietly before the university made its announcement.
According to the Chicago Province of Jesuits, Knoth allegedly abused a student in 1986 while he was assigned to co-ed Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, Indiana. Details about the alleged abuse and the victim have not been released. Following an investigation by the Province, Knoth was removed from active ministry, in accordance with new procedures adopted by the Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Rev. William J. Byron, S.J., currently a professor at Loyola College in Baltimore and a former business school professor at Georgetown, has been selected to replace him.
“Loyola is a strong institution, blessed with committed trustees, a distinguished faculty, a dedicated staff, superb students and alumni. It has been my honor to serve them,” Knoth said in a written statement Tuesday.
Before assuming the presidency at Loyola New Orleans eight years ago, Knoth worked at Georgetown from 1990 to 1995 as an associate College dean, lecturer and chaplain-in-residence. Knoth was contacted in 2000 about becoming Georgetown’s 47th president after the Rev. Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., announced his plans for retirement in 2001.
His candidacy was met with some dispute.
In a Sept. 18, 2000 letter to THE HOYA, former University Professor of Public Policy Colin Campbell argued that Georgetown’s consideration of Knoth reflected the extent of the Catholic Church’s vocational crisis, saying that Knoth “worked at Georgetown as essentially a counselor with no responsibility for devising academic policy [and] became president of a Jesuit university (not high school!).”
As an administrator at Loyola, he was known for his fundraising abilities as well as his efforts to upgrade technology. Considered by some as a dynamic force, he oversaw the construction of a new library, parking garage and residence hall. He re-emphasized the Jesuit heritage of social values. The main Loyola University New Orleans web site, for example, prominently displays photos of students wearing “Social Justice University,” and “Catholic Humanism University” sweatshirts.
Georgetown philosophy professor and chaplain-in-residence Fr. Kevin Wildes, S.J., serves on the Board of Directors at Loyola University New Orleans. He joined the conference call Tuesday night to decide the course of action.
“When I first heard about it, I was shocked,” Wildes said. “I was very surprised. I think right now I feel very sad about this whole thing.”
Joe Rosemeyer, a student at Loyola New Orleans and news editor of the campus newspaper, The Maroon, said that the campus has been “pretty crazy” since Knoth’s resignation.
“A lot of people were completely shocked and taken off-guard,” he said. “No one seemed to know about this until it happened.”
Wildes remembered Knoth from his time at Georgetown. “He did a lot of work with students while he was here,” Wildes said. “He also lived in Harbin, and he had a very affable personality. It was easy for students to get to know him and he enjoyed very much talking with everyone.”
Rosemeyer said that there are “a lot of people who say they’ll miss Knoth.”
Having been removed from active ministry, Knoth can no longer celebrate Mass publicly, cannot officiate at marriages and funerals and can no longer identify himself as a priest.
The Chicago Jesuit province released a statement Tuesday about the resignation. “The entire Jesuit community today joins in prayer for healing, justice and reconciliation for the accuser and the accused. We also pray for a full and complete resolution for all victims – those who have come forward and those who continue to suffer in silence,” it said.
Byron, selected as Knoth’s replacement, is no stranger to Georgetown. While at Georgetown from 1992 to 2000, he taught “Social Responsibilities of Business” in the McDonough School of Business and served as the rector of the Georgetown Jesuit Community. From 2000 to 2003, Byron served as pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church. The holder of four post-graduate degrees and 25 honorary degrees, Byron writes a bi-weekly column for the Catholic News Service and has written numerous books on spiritual issues.
According to a written statement issued after Knoth’s resignation, Byron is “eager to learn and ready to serve.”