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Indiana Catholic priest reaches plea deal in sexual abuse cases

Coat of arms for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (AP/WISH) — A northeastern Indiana priest has agreed to plead guilty to child solicitation and sexual battery charges for allegedly sexually abusing a teenage girl and a young woman.

The Rev. David Huneck was charged in October with felony child solicitation and sexual battery and several misdemeanor charges.

If the 31-year-old priest pleads guilty to the felony charges and a judge accepts his plea at a Jan. 27 Whitley County hearing, the misdemeanor charges would be dropped.

The Journal Gazette reports that Huneck was charged after two females, ages 17 and 19, reported two incidents in which Huneck allegedly sexually assaulted them.

Huneck resigned in September from his parish and a role at a Fort Wayne Catholic high school after the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said it became aware of allegations of sexual misconduct.

The diocese became aware of the allegations against Huneck on Sept. 19. A statement from Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said Huneck engaged in sexual and other misconduct, including with a minor, according to the allegations. Columbia City Police Department and the Indiana Department of Child Services were informed once the diocese learned of the allegations.

“Father Huneck subsequently resigned as pastor of St. Paul of the Cross Catholic Church, Columbia City, and as chaplain of Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne. Further, as a precautionary measure, Father Huneck was suspended from all public priestly ministry,” the statement said.

At a Sept. 28 news conference, the bishop said he was disappointed and disturbed that the alleged misconduct happened recently and had been committed by a priest who had not been at his ministry for a comparatively long period of time.

“I can’t really think of anything we could have done differently. There were no red flags. It’s extremely troubling,” Rhoades said during the news conference. “Sexual abuse or misconduct by a priest hurts and causes confusion for victims, their families, and the entire church. We have worked so hard here in our diocese to strengthen a safe environment in our church for young people and will continue to do so. We will also continue to do our best to provide healing and hope to victims … the care of the victims is my No. 1 priority.”

Columbia City is about 15 miles west of Fort Wayne.

Rhoades himself faced an accusation of misconduct in 2018. The accusation stemmed from his time as a priest with the diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, WANE reported. Rhoades denied the validity of the accusation and was cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation by the Dauphin County district attorney.