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The Tragedy of Gilbert Gauthe Part II

The Tragedy of Gilbert Gauthe Part II

By Jason Berry
The Times of Acadiana
May 30, 1985

From the link:

{Brief note from the editors} Last week The Times reported on the crimes of pedophile priest Gilbert Gauthe, committed over a decade in Acadiana church parishes. The second part of this series explores the personal and legal dramas unfolding as a result of those crimes.

When Ted Campbell became an altar boy in the early 1960s, St. John The Evangelist Church in Henry was a world removed from the councils of Rome. Priests stressed the moral code handed down through centuries, and Campbell’s faith grew. A strapping man in his late 30s, he became a pillar of his church: president of the parish council, a lay reader of scripture at Sunday Mass.

Father Gilbert Gauthe

Father Gilbert Gauthe

In July 1983, the sins of Gilbert Gauthe, pedophile priest, reached into his home, and the church Ted Campbell loved began to crumble in his heart. The Campbells were among the first families represented by lawyers Paul Hebert and Raul Bencomo in financial negotiations with the Lafayette diocese concerning Gauthe’s sexual molestation of their children (as reported last week in The Times). From the beginning, Campbell wanted Gauthe put behind bars. The lawyers stressed the need for patience and discretion: Getting a criminal indictment of Gauthe hinged on the victims’ testimony, for which the youngsters needed psychological counseling.

Campbell quit going to church; he brooded about his faith—and about justice. He made several attempts to tell other families, with sons who were altar boys, to seek professional help. He was rebuffed, sometimes rudely. “I had one guy come in my house and tell me to my face: ‘It takes a low down son of a bitch to sue the Church.’”

When Msgr. Richard Mouton of Abbeville called, asking Campbell to come by the rectory, he knew it had something to do with Gauthe. Campbell says the priest told him: “You ought not to talk about [Gauthe]. It’s none of your business.” Campbell replied, “What about the rest of the kids who were altar boys?” Mouton, Campbell says, answered, “You don’t need to talk about that. We’ll tend to it; just tend to your son.” Mouton also suggested that troubled youngsters come to him for confession—which Campbell took as a sincere, if naive, offer of help.

Attorney Minos Simon’s suit on behalf of the Gastals rests on the premise that Church officials not only had prior knowledge of Gauthe’s crimes but also had long tolerated homosexuality among other clerics in the sprawling diocese. Defense attorney F. Ray Mouton has entered an insanity plea to Gauthe’s criminal indictment. The jury will have to decide if the priest was capable of telling right from wrong at the time he molested his victims.

One weekend in New Orleans, Campbell wandered into Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. “I looked at the priests on the altar,” he recalls, “and I was judgin’ ’em. I wondered if this bastard screws women, if this one was gay, if this one’s a pedophile. And it’s an injustice I feel. I can’t help it. I can’t deal with it. Every time I see a priest, it clicks in my mind: I wonder what kind of sicko this one is. I know there are good priests. It’s a shame these good priests have to suffer for the weirdos they have in there. I have to accept what Gauthe did, but there’s no way my God would condone that activity. I had to [sue] as a moral obligation. I’m thinking of God. I don’t need the Church for salvation.”

The hunger for justice gnawed away. And the idea of other families out there, eschewing him while avoiding their own sons’ suffering, increased his pain. By February 1984, with therapy sessions reknitting threads of the family cloth, Campbell paid a visit to Glenn Gastal, who owned a feed store in Perry.

Remembering his own rage the day he learned what Gauthe had done, he spoke gently to his friend, suggesting he have a heart-to-heart talk with his boy. In a matter of days, Gastal went to Paul Hebert’s office to sue the Catholic Church.

“This whole neighborhood has a doubt in their minds.” says Gastal, “as to the ones who don’t really know [what Gauthe did] and won’t face it. I’m talkin’ about people I wouldn’t want to hurt. The ones that settled tried to explain to others, and some of ’em have been kicked out of homes [for broaching the subject.] The people don’t want to face those that’s seen the problem. And we’re not talkin’ about parents, either: maybe a grandchild was involved, maybe a nephew. It’s like a black cloud hanging over you that’s just going to fall on you any damn minute.”

Like Campbell, Gastal lost friends over his decision to sue. It cost both men in other ways as well. Campbell has a crop dusting business. “I can’t prove I lost customers because of my suit,” he says, “but there’s no other way to explain it.” Gastal got hit harder. Customers at the feed store drained to a trickle. He finally lost the business.

To Sue or Not to Sue

On June 4, 1984, the Campbells drove to Paul Hebert’s office in Abbeville to sign settlement papers. En route, Campbell told his wife: “I just don’t want to sign. We lose our right to sue for damages to us, as parents.” But the months of waiting, the emotional ride, had drained his wife, who wanted to put the lawsuits behind them. “Ted,” she said, “let’s just sign.”

At the lawyers’ office Campbell insisted on retaining his right to separate legal redress. Attorneys Hebert and Raul Bencomo explained that, as part of the settlement agreement, he no longer had that right. Reluctantly, Campbell signed. Of the $405,000 settlement to the Campbells, $270,000 was earmarked for their son’s treatment, $30,000 for the parents, and the remainder went to attorneys’ fees and professional or medical expenses.

Campbell says the $30,000 “was taken out of my son’s settlement” and claims the lawyers misled him as to his own right to sue the Church separately. Hebert sharply disputes this, adding, “I wouldn’t have included the $30,000 [to the parents] if I had told him they had no redress.”

While Ted Campbell brooded about his settlement, Glenn and Faye Gastal had their own change of heart. “I felt that for what Gauthe had done to my son, he had to be punished,” says Gastal. “As far as having to sign a piece of paper that was releasing the church, saying they were not liable in no kinda way and there was gonna be no further litigation, I didn’t feel I was doing the right thing.”

“There was confusion between the civil and criminal matters,” Hebert now says. “Our strategy was to settle the civil suits to our clients’ best financial advantage and let [District Attorney] Nathan Stansbury move forward with the criminal charges. It was difficult for some parties to understand the pace by which we had to proceed. But there was never any question about getting Gauthe indicted. The only question was, when would the kids be ready to give testimony to the grand jury?”

Containing the Media

During the long months of negotiations over settlements, no one outside of those involved knew what was taking place. No news of Gauthe, his crimes, the victimized children or Church responsibility had yet surfaced.

When the settlement papers were signed June 4, KLFY-TV (Channel 10) reporter Dee Stanley received a tip from an Abbeville source about the agreement. He called D.A. Nathan Stansbury, who, Stanley says, told him, “The problem is all worked out. The kids won’t [have to] talk for the civil cases.” Stansbury, playing his cards close to the vest, refused to discuss criminal proceedings.

The reporter called Hebert, who, he says, told him: “Everything has been settled. There really is no story.” Jim Baronet, Channel 10 news director reflects: “We knew something was going on, but we were cut off. Neither party would talk, the Church for liability reasons, and Hebert because he was bargaining an out-of-court, secret settlement.”

The station’s first report—some three months before other media would report the Gauthe story—was a cautious assessment, mentioning neither names of victims nor Gauthe. Since the settlements had been out of court, little information was publicly available. Then, two weeks later, on June 27, Hebert and Bencomo filed four suits on behalf of new clients in the Abbeville courthouse. These suits marked the first on-record documentation of the Gauthe civil damages proceedings.

Again, a source in the Abbeville courthouse called Stanley: “The thing you’re looking for has just been filed,” the reporter was told. But when Stanley arrived to review documents, the docket—which lists names of plaintiffs and defendants—read: “Not Available vs. Not Available.” Who was suing whom?

Stanley asked Clerk of Court Russell Gaspard where the papers were: A suit is a suit, publicly available under the law. “They’re not available,” Gaspard told him, adding that District Court Judge Allen Babineaux had sealed them. “I want a copy of the order that seals the suits,” Stanley said. “I can’t give you that,” Gaspard replied. “I don’t have it. Paul Hebert has it.”

“We’re entitled to that document,” Stanley said, “it’s our First Amendment right.” Gaspard called Hebert. An hour later Gaspard gave Stanley a copy of the seal order. News director Baronet called Judge Babineaux, who refused to discuss the matter. The result was a shut-out: No names would be revealed. Babineaux’s ruling meant the station would have to file suit to find out who was suing whom. But breaking the seal, Baronet felt, could jeopardize the victims’ privacy even though his news policy was to preserve their anonymity. “Legally,” says Baronet, “we found it difficult to divide the two sides.”

KATC-TV (Channel 3) had similar leads, but would not air a story, even after obtaining Gauthe’s name, until many weeks later, long after Stanley’s follow-up reports had identified Gauthe by name. The Daily Advertiser, AP and UPI did not report the events covered by Channel 10 that June. “We were out there alone,” Baronet reflects, “and I must admit it didn’t feel good.”

Victim’s father Ted Campbell has been rebuffed in his attempts to talk to other families about Gauthe’s crimes. Says Campbell: “I had one guy come in my house and tell me to my face: ‘It takes a low down son of a bitch to sue the Church.’”

Bolting the Traces

The sparse news coverage and long wait for an indictment frustrated the Gastals. In mid-summer they met with Lafayette attorney J. Minos Simon, who agreed to represent them. Simon inherited the $12.8 million pleadings filed by Bencomo and Hebert in the Gastals’ behalf. Glenn Gastal, angry and restless, wanted to publicly {?}cize the Church, which was precluded by Hebert’s strategy.

Gastal’s defection was a bitter pill to Hebert and Bencomo, who had, over many months, negotiated large settlements and preserved victims’ anonymity while moving toward the day when Nathan Stansbury would formally question the youngsters in order to try for a criminal indictment.

At 62 J. Minos Simon has cultivated a lucrative law practice and garnered no small reputation for controversy along the way. In the 1960s he sued then-Gov. John McKeithen to limit state investigatory powers over labor unions, a case he won in the U.S. Supreme Court. More recently, he successfully defended Placquemines Parish political boss Chalin Perez on a maze of charges stemming from the family’s control of the parish.

Simon’s approach to the Gastal suit was driven by a philosophy dramatically different from that of the other settlement attorneys. The latter held to a narrow definition of their clients’ best interests: preserve anonymity and go for the insurance companies’ deep pocket. Simon was going for the same pocket, only many fathoms deeper. His representation of Gastal rested on a startling premise: Church officials not only had prior knowledge of Gauthe’s sexual transgressions but also had long tolerated homosexuality among other clerics in the sprawling diocese. They, in addition to Gauthe, were responsible for damages to the children, Simon held.

“My clients came to me,” Simon says, “complaining that their attorneys were putting a tight lid of secrecy not only on the victims but also on everything the Church did. Here were Church officials, not only guilty, but protected—shielded—by confidentiality placed by their lawyers and Church lawyers. It was easy to protect the children: All you had to do was delete their names but otherwise let all the documents be part of the public record. There were so many children involved, from what [the Gastals] told me. You can’t have the whole community and the Church not be aware. That was self-evident. I started an investigative procedure whose goal was to find the facts beyond Gauthe.”

In sexual molestation cases, it is common for courts to bar all reporting of minor’s {sic} names and to delete them from court records, which are otherwise made public as prescribed by law. In response to such a motion by Simon, Judge Marcus Broussard, on Sept. 4, lifted the seal on the Gastal suit, and the allegations against Gilbert Gauthe became a matter of public record for the first time—15 months after his suspension from priestly duties. With facts now known, other media began reporting the story broken by Channel 10 three months earlier. And for the first time, the diocese spoke publicly about Gilbert Gauthe’s crimes.

Bishop Frey issued a prepared statement. “From the beginning, I have reached out and offered assistance to those who have been harmed or hurt . . . . We should not be shaken in our faith,” the statement concluded, “for we know that the spirit helps us in our weakness.”

To attorney Paul Hebert, the bishop’s statement was too little, too late. The diocese, having balked at his request to canvas altar boy families in July 1983, had, in his view, shirked responsibility. In response to the bishop’s statement, the lawyer drafted a letter on behalf of his clients, which ran in The Daily Advertiser. It characterized the bishop’s statement as “not an accurate and true reflection of what has occurred.” The letter continued:

“In fact, although Church leaders were told of this matter over one year and three months ago, this statement from the Bishop is the first expression by the Church as to this tragic and unfortunate situation involving our children, and those of many others. The extent of the sexual abuse by this priest and the fact that there were minor children involved was never told to the parents of the victims or the parishioners . . . . It is inaccurate and misleading to attempt to portray to the public that the Church leaders have always made themselves available, as it is more an obligation of going to the parents of all victims and giving them the true information about what happened to their children.”

The once-improbable idea of Catholics suing their church had now taken root. Abbeville attorney Anthony Fontana, who declined to be interviewed, filed suits on behalf of four plaintiffs on Oct. 11, 1984. Like Hebert and Bencomo, Fontana is a Roman Catholic. Soon thereafter, Fontana filed two more suits.

Meanwhile, the legal drama shifted to the criminal stage. District Attorney Nathan Stansbury drove to Abbeville, and in a room at the Hebert Sonnier law offices, he sat with a video cameraman, asking questions of 11 young victims. There was no one else present. Stansbury used videotape so that the boys would not have to be questioned directly by the grand jury: He wanted straight answers to painful questions and was dead set against exposing the victims to the ordeal of revealing their terrible injuries to a group of strangers.

After seeing the videotaped testimony, the grand jury returned a 34-count indictment on Oct. 18. Although Gauthe would subsequently admit under oath to numerous acts of sodomy, the grand jury indicted him on only one count of this crime (aggravated rape, sodomy of a child under 12). Successful criminal prosecutions often rest on the corroborating testimony of a witness. Grand jury testimony produced only one boy able to say he saw Gauthe sodomize another, and this may be the reason the grand jury indicted him on only one count of the most serious of his alleged crimes. The penalty for aggravated rape carries a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor.

Pictures From a Haunted Past

Eleven of the indictment counts are for pornography involving juveniles. A common practice among pedophiles is an almost documentary-like taking of photos and keeping of journals or diaries, which serve as erotic stimulation. According to Bruce Selcraig, who does research on pedophilia for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington: “Most pedophiles, when confronted with the existence of photographs, deny it. But in the majority of cases, they’ve hidden them or shipped them off to another pedophile.”

Several pedophile organizations in America send child pornography through the mail. When child pornographer Katherine H. Wilson of Los Angeles was convicted of child pornography, her mailing list numbered 50,000, including many recipients overseas. Another organization known to mail child pornography is the North American Man/Boy Love Association, which openly calls for the abolition of the age of legal sexual consent. Northern law enforcement sources say Gauthe’s name appears on the mailing lists of neither of these organizations, but point out that he could have used an alias. The Times did not have access to the mailing lists of the Louis Carroll Collectors Guild and the Child Sensuality Circle.

“This whole neighborhood has a doubt in their minds,” says victim’s father Glenn Gastal. “The people don’t want to face those that’s seen the problem . . . . It’s like a black cloud hanging over you that’s just going to fall on you any damn minute.”

Gauthe has denied knowledge of such groups but admitted under oath to receiving child pornography in two “brochures” that came through the mail, “. . . . but I have no idea where they came from. And I had no correspondence with them,” he said. But how would he have received those “brochures” unless he requested them? How many pornographers would gratuitously send materials to a parish priest in Henry, La.?

Gauthe admitted to having taken hundreds of photographs of his young victims; he said he destroyed them. A search of the rectory several days after Gauthe left did not turn up any pictures. Gauthe may have destroyed the pictures, but to victims and their parents, they are a haunting memory of Gauthe’s crimes. Could the photographs still exist? At least one child asked his parents to find the pictures of him and destroy them.

Another unanswered question is who provided Gauthe with the pornographic video tapes he showed youngsters in the rectory. In deposition Gauthe said: “I found out through overhearing that there was a guy in Abbeville, that if you’d bring him a blank tape, well, then you’d come back the next week, and he’d have a film for you. He was in a van in the National food store parking lot. I didn’t get his name at all. I gave him $20 and a blank tape and he recorded it. I was dressed in blue jeans and a pullover shirt.” Like the instant snapshots Gauthe says he took, the video porn has disappeared.

Mouton for the Defense

Until the indictment of Gauthe, the Church’s legal defense had been limited to the civil damages claims. The diocese had paid for Gauthe’s treatment, and now it needed a trial lawyer to defend him on criminal charges. The call went to F. Ray Mouton, 38, a hard-driving man with ample experience in civil damages suits as well as criminal defense.

A Catholic, Mouton was no stranger to high-profile, big-dollar cases that draw reporters like steel filings to a magnet. He’d won acquittal of policemen accused of brutality and had run unsuccessfully for a local judgeship. Once, while defending an accused drug dealer, Mouton found himself and his client pursued by TV cameras across a parking lot. The attorney hated pictures of people hiding their faces from the media; they suggested guilt. So, lawyer and client cheerfully waved to the cameramen, as if playing a game. Mouton won: The pictures never aired.

Mouton flew to Massachusetts to meet Gauthe for the first time, advising him to return to Lafayette for arraignment and agree to depositions with plaintiffs’ lawyers in the civil suits. “My philosophy was that he should not hide behind the Fifth Amendment,” Mouton says. “To do otherwise would have suggested a cover-up of some sort, which made no sense.”

News of Gauthe’s impending return created a volatile atmosphere in Lafayette. There were telephone death threats to Mouton’s office in his absence; other anonymous callers threatened to kill Gauthe.

Mouton and Gauthe flew from Boston to Houston on a late-night flight, accompanied by two Vermilion Parish sheriff’s deputies. From Houston they drove in an unmarked car to Lafayette, arriving at 3:45 a.m. on Oct. 24. Gauthe went to a cell in parish prison. At 9 a.m., Mouton brought his client down a back elevator from the cell block and, flanked by police, they entered the courtroom. Gauthe stood before Judge Lucien Bertrand. Mouton entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The hearing lasted less than three minutes. Gauthe left for the cell block, again by the rear elevator.

Under Louisiana law, the insanity defense revolves around the M’Naghten Rule, under which the test for legal responsibility is restricted to the sole question of whether the defendant, at the time the offense was committed, could discern the difference between right and wrong.

On Oct. 31, police cars arrived at Minos Simon’s law offices where Gauthe, accompanied by Mouton, answered questions posed by Simon. The process was repeated several days later with Raul Bencomo. Insurance lawyers were present at both depositions.

In his civil pleadings, Bencomo alleged Gauthe seduced his victims in an initiation ring wedded to ritual instruction of the youngsters as altar boys. Mouton filed a written response denying the existence of sex initiation-rings, adding: “No sexual conduct of Gilbert Gauthe was ever associated with his occupation as a parish priest.” “Initiation ring,” however, was in Bencomo’s parlance a psychological, not a religious, term.

While Mouton’s denial of the initiation rings seems to serve the Church’s arguments, in civil proceedings (as well as in news accounts), that it is not responsible for Gauthe’s actions, it is a straightforward criminal defense having little bearing on the damages suits. In essence, Mouton argues that although he was a priest, Gauthe’s pedophilia was an addictive illness blurring his mental and moral capabilities: His crimes, in Mouton’s defense logic, were those of a man apart from his priestly role. Whether jurors will buy that remains to be seen.

Things were not going well for Gilbert Gauthe. After a year of cloistered treatment in the House of Affirmation, he was in the Lafayette parish prison. An Abbeville woman whose family maintained close ties with Gauthe visited him there, and he asked her for cotton. He wanted to swallow it to commit suicide. He was now face-to-face with the cruel code of prison life, under which murder is pardonable but child molestation is not. Inmates shrieked at him, and at one point the threats caused him to shrivel up in a corner of his cell, scared witless.

Thirty miles away in Vermilion Parish, the child of one aggrieved family slept soundly every night, for the first time in months, secure in the knowledge that Gauthe was behind bars.

Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, Nov. 8, Gauthe left Lafayette for Connecticut on $250,000 bond—traveling, under court order, with two law enforcement officers to an institution approved by Judge Bertrand. He will remain at the secular psychiatric facility until the criminal trial begins. Mouton agreed to waive extradition and voluntarily return Gauthe on request of the court. When one youngster heard news reports of Gauthe’s departure, he became frightened and asked his parents: “How do you know where he is? How do you know he won’t come back?”

Media coverage intensified after Simon’s depositions with Gauthe and Msgr. Richard Mouton of Abbeville who discussed the 1976 incident in that town, when Gauthe was sent for psychiatric counseling after two parents complained he licked their sons on the cheeks. On Nov. 4, the New Orleans Times-Picayune/States Item ran {?} a story whose lead paragraph read: “Catholic Church officials knew for almost seven years about the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe’s sexual activities with boys at churches in southwest Louisiana, according to two depositions filed this week in a court case.”

The report brought a prompt denial from Ray Mouton: “There is absolutely no evidence which indicates that anyone in the Catholic Church had knowledge that Gilbert Gauthe was sexually involved with any child or children,” he contended. He went beyond mere denial, threatening the Picayune with a $40 million libel suit. No suit was filed, but the threat may have had a chilling impact. The New Orleans paper ran mainly wire service copy on the case from then on.

The Times asked attorney Mouton about the libel suit threat. “The evidence,” said the lawyer, “quoted in [The Picayune] article did not exist when he wrote it.” Asked about such evidence now, Mouton replied: “I have nothing to say about that.”

Although the Daily Advertiser covered legal developments as they occurred, there was no investigative attempt. The Times ran two stories on the case, but ceased continuing coverage and began preparing its in-depth report. Channel 10, and to a lesser degree other broadcast media, followed the legal hearings in the civil cases.

Crusade or Persecution?

When Minos Simon took over the Campbell’s suit, he added as defendants Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Philip Hannan of New Orleans, Bishop Frey and various insurers. Suing the pope wins few admirers in a Catholic region, but Simon calls the action “merely a legal technicality,” related to being able to set aside Campbell’s original settlement agreement in which he agreed to take no further action against the Church. The pontiff has since been dropped from the suit.

In January, things got even hotter in the civil litigation. Simon filed a contempt motion against attorney Hebert for not providing him with sealed records from his settlements. Judge Bradford Ware dismissed the charges, saying Hebert had not been properly served notice, and ordered Simon to pay Raul Bencomo $1,500 in attorney’s fees for Hebert’s defense.

Two weeks ago, Judge Byron Hebert (no relation) dismissed Simon’s attempt to revoke Campbell’s portion of his settlement.

As part of the legal skirmishing, Simon has also filed malpractice charges against the Hebert Sonnier firm, alleging that Hebert misled the Campbells regarding their right to individual redress. “We worked diligently for the Campbells,” says Hebert. “I think the malpractice claim is inappropriate and misguided.”

But the brunt of Simon’s legal charge was borne by the Church. He gave television interviews accusing the diocese of engaging in a cover-up. These statements, coupled with suing the pope and suing Hebert created something of a spectacle. In reality, though, Simon had embarked on a powerful move against the insurance companies in what is known as discovery.

Before damage claims are actually tried in court, lawyers question prospective witnesses, gathering facts for later use as trial testimony. Gauthe’s depositions—like those of Church officials—were part of the discovery process. Discovery questions often result in court hearings in which a judge will rule on the scope of questions—the limits to which an attorney may go in his probe for discoverable evidence.

In Simon’s hands, the law is like a foil in the grip of a fencer: thrust, parry, and push relentlessly until the opponent drops his guard. When he began his discovery in the Gastal case last January, Simon had obtained sensitive information from inside the diocese—including allegations which, if proven true, held potentially disastrous implications for the Church. Armed with this information, he filed a motion requesting sensitive personnel documents, records of Immaculata Seminary and private files on 27 priests, listed by name. These documents, he said, would disclose conditions “including homosexuality, homosexual tendencies, and sexual aberrations . . . (from) 1970 through 1985.” The Church showed marked resistance to Simon’s inquiries.

The Church has apparently agreed to accept legal responsibilities for damages from Gauthe’s crimes. The question is why did Church lawyers wait so long to make this move?

On Jan. 3, Judge Bradford Ware presided over a hearing in Abbeville aimed at compelling the Church to answer written questions by Simon about homosexual clergy. At that hearing, no insurance lawyer was present. Ware issued an order requiring the Church to answer the questions. Simon filed a motion to hold the Church in contempt of court. He also wrote two letters to Church insurers attorney Robert Leake, demanding answers. Simon says Leake never answered the letters. Leake did not return calls from The Times.

On Jan. 18, Bishop Frey and Msgr. Larroque arrived at Simon’s office, accompanied by lawyers, to answer Simon’s questions in deposition. Bishop Frey, who went first, said he had none of the requested documents. “Is it because they don’t exist?” Simon asked, “or because they were otherwise produced?” “Well,” stated the bishop, “I assume that Msgr. Larroque was the one who was asked to bring the documents, which he did.” But when Msgr. Larroque’s turn came, he told Simon he assumed “counsel took care of it.” Attorney Leake, however, did not have the documents either. Simon filed another contempt motion.

Simon and Leake squared off in the Abbeville courtroom on March 12 over the disputed Church records. In style and bearing, the two men differed as vividly as their legal positions—Leake, the courtly New Orleanian with a stamp of elegance to his cast; Simon, the barrell-chested Cajun, battling for discovery. “The failure is self-evident,” Simon charged. Leake called Simon’s demands “a hunting license to pour {sic} through records that might exist. Whether they exist, I can’t say. Where is the legitimacy? The inquiry into private lives unrelated to Gauthe does not seem to us appropriate.”

“We wouldn’t be here today,” the judge said, “if attorneys for the defendants had been in court in January.” Simon added, “I submit there can’t be a clearer case of contempt.” Ware took the matter under advisement.

They were back in Abbeville on April 8, arguing over the files. Leake said disclosure “would violate separation of Church and state.” Simon rebutted: “We deal here with a violation of secular law, and Church immunity does not apply. Once you get into that arena, all parties stand on equal footing.”

Ware’s response telegraphed a warning to Leake: “I don’t think the Church is entitled to any privilege. Relevancy is the key word.”

Simon hammered away: “What is the risk involved in this litigation? The sexual conduct of priests: This is the risk-creating factor resulting in harm to [the Gastal’s {sic}] minor son. We believe those records will disclose instances of homosexuality that have gone on for the last 12 to 15 years. We must establish the existence [of homosexuality,] hence the risk factor. They failed to create a safeguard and let [molestation] proceed with full knowledge.”

Leake attacked the list of 27 priests on whom Simon was asking information as “indictment by innuendo,” but Ware was unmoved. The judge asked Simon for a written brief, a move giving Leake time to ponder his options. But those were few, and time was running out. “I still have not heard why [defense lawyers] did not come forth in January regarding Mr. Simon’s interrogatories,” Ware said. “It rather aggravates me that the Church has taken this position.”

“Evidently, we had too many lawyers working the case,” Leake replied. “Some knew about it; others didn’t. Otherwise, I can only apologize to the court.”

Judge Ware eventually ruled that the Church must turn over documents relating to sexual molestation of children, but not to homosexuality per se.

Behind the argument over the disputed files lay serious problems for Leake’s clients. The real issue was whether or not the Church should stipulate to liability—that is, should the Church formally admit that it bore responsibility, through its policies, for damages to children and families victimized by Gilbert Gauthe?

A source within the Church told The Times that the diocese paid $500,000 of the $4.2-million settlement to the nine original claimants last June. But those negotiations were not based on a stipulation of liability. The parties agreed to pay, without admitting that the Church itself was at fault for what Gauthe did.

With Simon alleging widespread homosexuality and a cover-up that allowed Gauthe to continue molesting children, the question of the Church’s liability advanced to center stage. If, as settlement attorney Paul Hebert claims, Gauthe’s victims “could well exceed 70 children” Leake’s clients faced a sizable risk: How many more victims were out there who could file more suits? If the lawyer turned over Church files to Simon, would those records divulge information that the Church failed to take proper safeguards, thereby making the institution more vulnerable to liability charges?

What if, as Simon alleged, the documents divulged other instances of pedophilia by priests? Turning over such a stone could create new legal problems. The disputed files might form the basis for a larger legal thrust, one resembling a class-action suit. Such an action could mean much higher damages claims.

The most expedient way to block Simon from getting the sensitive Church documents the court had ordered released would be to stipulate to liability. In early April, the defense informed Simon it would do just that. As The Times went to press, the wording of that agreement had not been worked out. But Simon said: “I got a call three days ago from a lawyer in New Orleans telling me everything was on go; they were just waiting to hear from various entities.”

The Church delay in accepting liability may have cut its potential losses. Last year a new state law went into effect limiting the time during which a person may file a civil damages suit to one year after the injury is sustained. The last of the original settlements negotiated by attorneys Hebert and Bencomo were signed almost one year ago, June 27, 1984. It was only after these settlements that the Gauthe matter became public knowledge.

A crucial question in the application of the new law will be when the year to which the filing period is limited begins. The question is—would the year of limitation for Gauthe’s victims begin when the boys were molested or when the parents learned of the crimes? Would it be too late, then, for any of Gauthe’s victims who have not yet come forward to file suit? The new law has yet to be tested in the courts.

Whether or not any of Gauthe’s victims who have turned 18 can seek legal redress may also be the subject of future legal wrangling. Other provisions of the new law may be interpreted as making it difficult for those who have reached the age of majority to sue for injuries sustained as minors. Whether or not older victims are precluded from suing would be of great importance to limiting the number of potential claims if the number of Gauthe’s victims is as great as some suspect.

Legal responsibility to the victims aside, what is the moral responsibility of the Church? In his letter to The Times quoted last week, diocesan attorney Bob Wright stated that the Church “will continue to do all things possible, both legally and morally, to rectify—mitigate any damages.” Does that mean offering therapy to the older victims? If so, what steps are underway to locate them and extend the pastoral hand?

What, finally, does “stipulation of liability” mean on the human level—to victims who are now plaintiffs, their families and to Catholics of the diocese? The Church appears to have two legal options before it. One is to negotiate out-of-court settlements with Simon. Hebert and Bencomo, and Abbeville lawyer Anthony Fontana in the 11 suits pending. Settlements would avert jury trials and continuing news coverage damaging to the diocese. But given the previously negotiated settlements, that course could well prove more expensive than trials, particularly if Catholic jurors balk at awarding settlements in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By all indications, the decision as to what legal course to pursue is out of the hands of Bishop Frey. Insurance lawyers have called the shots to date: Nothing suggests the chain of command will change.

Meanwhile, tentative trial dates have been set for September for the Hebert and Bencomo cases. Trials will mean testimony by children, or by psychologists, stating the magnitude of damage to the victims. Whether the boys will testify is a decision each plaintiffs’ lawyer must face. Testimony by the young victims may well be a powerful appeal for monetary damages, but at what price to the boys?

The literature on testimony of pedophilia victims is replete with references to the potential harm incurred by youngsters forced to relive their haunted memories in testimony before a jury. Youngsters who have been sexually molested are in a position of profound vulnerability. Defense lawyers, faced with an emotionally fragile witness can pound away with one goal in mind: reduce the amount of dollars a child’s agony is worth.

A Question of Canon Law

Throughout the months of criminal and civil proceedings, a shadow-story of religious law has flickered on the edge of this tragedy. For centuries, the Catholic Church has been guided by its own legal system, known as canon law. In 1983, the first translation from Latin to English appeared. As the constitution of the Church, canon law has undergone revisions through the centuries: Its sections define the range of Church administration.

And while much of the code defines the duties of clergy to their superiors, the standard of stewardship—the obligations incumbent on those in high office—is also explained in considerable depth.

According to canon law all power devolves from the Pope; however, in the delegation of authority, each bishop has wide latitude to decide what he believes best, or in disciplinary questions, deems just.

In his deposition with Minos Simon, Msgr. Larroque, the diocesan vicar general and a specialist in canon law, discussed Church practice under the code. A brief passage in Larroque’s deposition raises a curtain on the inner sanctum of Church judicial policy and a ritual unknown to laymen. There is, he explained, “a formal [investigative] procedure . . . a Church court. The membership is composed of [priests who serve as] judges, defenders, advocates. They determine the facts. The penalty would usually be determined by statement in the law. The bishop sets up the court, which acts for the bishop.”

No Church court was convened in the case of Gilbert Gauthe, who was suspended, Larroque said, “on the basis of two children.” Larroque told Simon, “I have been in office since 1965, and to the best of my knowledge there has never been a formal investigation, judicial procedure.”

Larroque’s statement raises hard questions about canonical proceedings in the Lafayette diocese. Why wasn’t Gauthe called before a Church court? The Church’s own legal system, rooted in centuries of law, requires obedience by priests to their superiors and has sweeping discovery powers of its own. The use of those legal powers under the canonical code is at issue here, because Gilbert Gauthe was not the only diocesan priest who molested boys.

End of Part II

The Tragedy of Gilbert Gauthe Part I

The Tragedy of Gilbert Gauthe Part I

By Jason Berry
The Times of Acadiana
May 23, 1985

From the link:

A Perspective {preface by the editors of The Times}

When young Father Gilbert Gauthe began secretly molesting a boy in Broussard in 1972, he set in motion a decade-long tragedy the details of which are only beginning to surface. At issue in the final stages of this tragedy are the troubled lives of dozens of Acadiana families, millions of dollars in damages claims and the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church’s Lafayette Diocese for the actions of one of its priests.

Father Gilbert Gauthe

Father Gilbert Gauthe

The fate of Gilbert Gauthe—who has admitted under oath to sexually molesting 37 youngsters in hundreds of incidents while a priest in Broussard, New Iberia, Abbeville and Henry—will ultimately be played out in the courts. Gauthe was indicted last October in Lafayette on 11 counts of aggravated crimes against nature, 11 counts of committing sexually immoral acts with minors, one count of aggravated rape (sodomizing a boy under the age of 12) and 11 counts of crimes of pornography involving juveniles, through pornographic photo sessions. Lafayette defense attorney F. Ray Mouton has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on behalf of Gauthe. The trial is expected for the fall. Meanwhile, Gauthe is undergoing treatment in a Connecticut psychiatric facility.

Beyond the criminal indictment, the Lafayette Diocese and a number of insurance companies have, in out-of-court settlements, already agreed to payments of at least $4.2 million to families of nine of Gauthe’s victims in Vermilion Parish. Plaintiffs attorneys Raul Bencomo and Paul Hebert refuse to confirm or deny the amounts or terms of the individual settlements. Eleven additional suits have been filed by other victims for claims of approximately $114 million. But these claims represent only a minority of victims. A veil of secrecy shrouds this tragedy, and only sketchy details have been revealed so far.

It would be easy for a community to shield itself from these painful realities, to isolate Gauthe, as a terrible aberration, from the Church whose vestments he wore and to turn away from the victims and their families as painful reminders of something better forgotten. But the price of blindness can be high indeed.

National experts interviewed by The Times are unanimous in saying children victimized by sexual molestation need help. A sex abuse researcher for the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in Washington, Bruce Selcraig, told The Times: “Many (victimized) kids are walking around with a time bomb inside them, feeling incredible guilt. There aren’t many victims who aren’t affected for a long time.”

Dr. David Finklehor of the University of New Hampshire, author of two books on child sexual abuse, told The Times: “It is important to stress that the facts of sexual abuse can be severe—depression, flashbacks, suicide attempts, psychosis. Long-term impacts are inevitable for everybody.”

Passages of a psychologist’s report evaluating Gauthe’s younger victims characterize the situation as “of such a magnitude that it almost defies description or classification.” (The Times did not have access to the full report.)

The real impact of Gauthe’s sexual plunder will be with us for years. Several children have undergone therapy at specialized treatment facilities. Some are wracked by recurrent nightmares. An adolescent victim who ran afoul of the law spent time in a parish jail. (Experts say anti-social behavior often stems from such trauma.) And victims who suffered as children are not healed by time alone. Another of Gauthe’s earliest victims, now in his 20s, is undergoing therapy for his traumatic childhood memories.

The parents of Gauthe’s victims have also paid a tremendous human price. The destruction of innocence can radically alter the bond between father and son, between mother and child—and, not infrequently, put stress on the relationship between parents themselves. And yet, those who have come forward, seeking financial compensation for their agony, have suffered criticism by others in their community, who perhaps do not understand the depths of their suffering or the severity of Gauthe’s crimes. The law clearly allows financial redress in cases such as these.

Under Louisiana law, the penalty for aggravated rape of a child under 12 is life imprisonment at hard labor.

Throughout this sad chain of events, the courts have gone to great lengths to protect the anonymity of victims, as requested by attorneys Bencomo and Hebert. The Times is in complete agreement with this principle and has not sought out these young victims during its investigation. We do not believe the public is served by knowing their names. Nevertheless, interviews with sources well-placed in the unfolding litigation convince us there are still walking time bombs ticking. Adolescents or young men who have not come to terms with victimization earlier in life may still be suffering—in need of treatment.

But victims are in an agonizing quandry {sic}: Guilt haunts their memories, yet if they come forward, communities may well view them as symbols of a reality too harsh to contemplate or as harsh critics of a cherished institution. Fear of the reaction of friends and neighbors is a compelling reason not to confess their victimization. The victim is victimized again.

The Acadiana community has also suffered under the veil of secrecy that surrounds the case of Gilbert Gauthe. Although Bishop Gerard Frey has issued several general pastoral statements about the Gauthe case, no Church authority has talked specifically about it with the media. It seems the legal exigencies of insurance compaines {sic} outweigh the more visceral needs of a community to discuss the matter with full knowledge of the facts—to have a catharsis and wipe the slate clean.

Bishop Gerard Frey

Bishop Gerard Frey

In response to The Times’ request for interviews with Bishop Frey and Msgr. Henri Larroque, the diocesan vicar general, Lafayette attorney Bob F. Wright wrote: “My clients are inhibited by contractual insurance arrangements to do nothing which might jeopardize the insurers’ rights of defense. . . . A press interview on the matters in litigation could result in the Church and its officials being denied insurance coverage. This cannot be risked even though it may seem to you that I am being arbitrary in refusing to authorize the requested interview.

“Please be assured that the Church and its officials have always been concerned about the interests of the individuals and families affected and are and will continue to do all things possible, both legally and morally, to rectify—mitigate any damages and to protect as best it can against any future recurrences.”

The Church may be acting responsibly as a business by accepting the muzzle of its insurers’ right to defense. But spiritual reconciliation occupies a realm above “contractual insurance agreements” and the logic of litigation. In spite of attorney Wright’s assurances of the Church’s desire to mitigate damages, last summer a request by families who had received settlements to meet with Bishop Frey on a weekend retreat was denied. The diocese and its insurers feared the bishop would be placed in an untenable position vis-a-vis new lawsuits.

Both Bishop Frey and Msgr. Larroque, however, have given sworn statements in pre-trial proceedings. In The Times’s report, quotations from the bishop and vicar general, unless otherwise indicated, come from depositions. Likewise the words of Gilbert Gauthe himself. At the time he was deposed, Gauthe had been undergoing treatment for a year.

We believe the Gauthe case bears serious scrutiny for other reasons. Sexual abuse of children has become a mounting national issue. Across America, reports of incest and molestation by caretakers of young people are on the rise. It is also a problem of the Catholic Church outside of Louisiana. Other cases involving priests who molested youngsters in California, Oregon, Idaho and Wisconsin have recently been reported. What steps are being taken to assure Catholics that such crimes are being forcefully dealt with inside the Church? How have bishops responded? And what can we learn from these troubling events?

These are painful questions for any publication to raise and answers do not come easily. We believe that citizens of Acadiana, a historically Catholic region, deserve a full accounting. Our reporter began his investigation more than three months ago. Our prayer is that the series beginning this week will establish the facts necessary to an understanding of the full scope of this sexual tragedy and, looking beyond that, will help heal the wounds and foster a true reconciliation between the diocese and its people.                                    THE EDITORS

Two days before Christmas, 1977, Gilbert Gauthe became pastor of St. John’s church in Henry, a tiny town in the rice belt of Vermilion Parish. The Catholic Church is bedrock here; for generations, farmers raised families in the faith of their forebears. And the 32-year-old priest seemed solidly one of theirs. He was a lean man with dark hair and two visible passions: the wilderness and children. Flocks of youngsters followed him on outings to the marsh. His attentiveness to children impressed many mothers. Grown men respected his love of guns and laughed at the story of Father Gauthe, perched in the church belfry, shotgun in hand, blasting geese in low flight on foggy dawns.

He was popular for other reasons. In funeral sermons he could be positively spellbinding. After intercepting police messages on a high-powered radio, he would race to the scene of accidents offering help. Once he saved a man’s life by pulling him from an upended tractor.

And always there were the children, mostly boys, playing in the rectory or at a camp in the marsh as his weekend guests. He was chaplain of the diocesan Boy Scouts and the Biddy Basketball team in Abbeville. Wealthy women, he has said, routinely gave him money. Although his salary was little more than $7,000 a year, Gauthe claimed in sworn statements that he earned closer to $18,000 yearly because of parishioners’ generosity. Such was the surface of life and faith at St. John the Evangelist in the years of Fr. Gauthe.


Behind his priestly persona the real Gilbert Gauthe was a pedophile—a man sexually fixated on children. This is one of the darkest manifestations of human sexuality, a psychological condition little studied until recently. Centuries ago it was called “the king’s disease” because only a monarch could engage in it with impunity. Pedophilia assaults society’s fundamental notions about innocence. For what can be more innocent than a child?

One trait found in many, though not all pedophiles, is a history of sexual victimization in their own youth.

Dr. John Money, a pioneering psychotherapist at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University Hospital, has treated many sex offenders. “Most pedophiles I’ve come across,” he told The Times, “are people who fall in love with children. There’s something distinctly childlike in pedophiles: Psychosexual age does not keep pace with chronological age.”

Two classics of children’s literature—Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan—were written by pedophiles, Lewis Carroll and J.H. Barrie. Both tales create a child-like fantasy world.

Gauthe’s twisted fantasy world demanded children for gratification. He drew most of his victims from the ranks of altar boys. They trained in rituals of the mass at ages 7, 8 and 9. And he drew them into acts of sex. Some successfully rebuffed his advances; more did not.

In a deposition taken last October by Lafayette attorney J. Minos Simon, who represents one victim’s family in a civil suit, Gauthe said his victims numbered “35, 36, 37, something like that.” But Abbeville lawyer Paul Hebert, who began legal proceedings against the church on behalf of victims in 1983, believes otherwise. He cites a report by Dr. Kenneth Bouillion, a Lafayette psychologist who screened victims at Hebert’s request. Bouillion declined to be interviewed, but Hebert told The Times that, based on Bouillion’s report, “Our suspicion is that the number of victims Gauthe molested in his career as a priest could well exceed 70 children, many of whom are now over 18.”

Why did it take so long—more than 10 years—before Gauthe was stopped? Consider his role in those young lives: He was a man before whom they saw their parents kneel, showing deference, receiving communion; a man to whom parent and child alike confessed sins; a guest at family dinners; a surrogate father and figure of consummate authority.

“All of the incidences,” Gauthe said under oath, “had, more or less, the same pattern where I got to know one of the children, and, you know, they would come over to the house a few times, and then there would be just some wrestling or tickling or something like that, and then there’d be some molesting, and then from that point on we’d go into the sexual activity . . . .”

Behind his priestly persona the real Gilbert Gauthe was a pedophile—a man sexually fixated on children. Centuries ago the affliction was called “the king’s disease” because only monarchs could engage in it with impunity.

Gauthe committed sodomy in early hours before mass, introduced oral sex in the confessional, in the sacristy, and he showed his young victims video taped pornography. He took hundreds of instant snapshots, which he claims to have destroyed, and instigated sex games.

But like countless other pedophiles, he also knew how to reach children in less threatening ways—cultivating them as friends, complimenting them, letting them play in the rectory, fostering notions that sex was fun by letting them play video games after sex—rewarding them for obedience to Father.

Who is Gilbert Gauthe and how could he have become a priest?

Roots of the Tragedy

Gauthe was born in 1945 in Napoleonville, a small town in Assumption Parish, soft soil along the curve of Bayou Lafourche. He was the eldest of eight children in a family of modest means. His father was a farmer, and as a boy Gilbert followed the seasons, hunting and fishing, camping as a Boy Scout. The origins of his pedophilia may lie in his childhood.

In deposition he spoke of his own molestation: “Both boys were two or three years older than I. The first time I was 9 or 10 years old and the second time I was a senior in high school.” He said he had sex with the first boy “on two occasions . . . and once with the second,” whom he described as “closer to 21.”

Gauthe graduated from Assumption High in Napoleonville and from there went to USL, entering Immaculata Seminary in Lafayette three years later in 1965. A calling to the priesthood is a major decision, yet Gauthe’s sworn statements reveal a remarkable ambivalence: “As far as why I was entering, I was very unclear on that myself. I had heard about the seminary all my life and really didn’t know that much, so I decided to go in. I didn’t really have any kind of commitment to the priesthood; it was more curiosity.”

A stately Colonial structure on Breaux Bridge Highway, Immaculata (closed in 1977) began as a minor seminary in 1948; four years of high school, two of college. From there, the normal progression was to Notre Dame, a major seminary in New Orleans, for completion of college work and a masters of divinity.

In 1968, after Gauthe had advanced to Notre Dame, Fr. Vincent O’Connell became rector of Immaculata. A Marist priest now in his 70s and living in New Orleans, O’Connell would meet Gauthe sometime later. But his reflections on Immaculata open a window on the problems at the Lafayette seminary during Gauthe’s time there.

Upon arrival, O’Connell found a community divided by personality disputes and questions of discipline. Age was one problem: Older seminarians taking courses at USL had greater freedom than those of high school age, who were subjected to stricter supervision. “There was no uniformity of policy,” O’Connell explains of the facility. He says priests differed on approaches to spiritual and academic development of the seminarians.

O’Connell, who entered seminary in 1926, realized that social and cultural complexities were at work. He felt students required more than just religious attention. If a seminarian showed signs of serious stress, says O’Connell, “he needed a psychiatrist for direction.” Bishop Schexnayder, an elderly man, resisted the idea. O’Connell continues: “I told him it was too important to run the institution without that resource. The faculty agreed. It was obvious that, besides normal emotional and intellectual development of students, there were two main appetites. One was food and drink; the other is called sex, but it’s really the appetite for procreation. When this is not allowed in normal circumstances, it must be dealt with.”

The bishop relented. O’Connell hired a psychiatrist who counseled the students. In time, he says, six candidates were dismissed for showing homosexual proclivities. O’Connell’s approach prefigured psychological screening procedures adapted {sic} in many seminaries across America in the ’70s to gauge the overall stability of future priests.

Concern over homosexuality was not the sole force behind these changes; rather, rectors began embracing modern psychological practices as a complement to their own judgments about men moving toward ordination. The Jesuits in New Orleans use the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory in their battery of standardized tests to determine general fitness of novitiates today.

Gauthe graduated from Notre Dame before such tests were administered. But his performance in New Orleans hardly suggested the capabilities of a good parish priest. He failed several courses including “Ethics” and “The Sacrament of Penance” and twice failed his master of divinity exams. He eventually raised his grades to passing level. But an early evaluation, outlining problems that would surface later, is a study in ambiguity:

“He has done pastoral work at Little Flower (church) which has been satisfactory. As a radio ham and Scout leader he has perhaps over-extended himself in a compulsive fashion. He shows little humor and worries others. At times he seems threatened and not quite with it, and has drawn some question about his judgment. However, he is steady, constant, and was ordained subdeacon on January 16, 1971.”

At the end of the year, Gauthe was ordained a priest in St. Ann’s Church in Napoleonville, where years before he made his first communion.

A calling to the priesthood is a major decision, yet Gauthe’s sworn statements reveal a remarkable ambivalence: “As far as why I was entering, I was very unclear on that myself. I didn’t really have any kind of commitment to the priesthood: It was more curiosity.”

A former seminarian who knew Gauthe at Notre Dame told The Times, “I was not surprised when I read all this [news of Gauthe’s indictment]. Gilbert never really hung around anyone in particular. I got the impression he was very popular with families. Gil was really a charismatic person for those kids. It’s incredible, the more you think about it.”

Another Notre Dame seminarian says Gauthe wired his car with a burglar alarm, an obsession that grew in later years. At the rectory in Henry, Gauthe installed burglar bars over the windows and doors, and ran floodlights across the carport.

In deposition with attorney Simon, Gauthe stated that he molested three boys during his first assignment as a priest in Broussard in 1972. At a church outing to {?}Grand Isle several parents confronted him, he said. “They simply asked me if I had been involved with any of the children,” he stated, “and I said, ‘Yes.’ And I asked them if they would help me find a good psychiatrist.” A lady made an appointment for him. “And,” he said, “I simply kept it.” Gauthe said the parents paid for these sessions, which lasted several months and that he did not report them to Church superiors.

Gauthe described his therapy as “like an association with repulsive ideas. I call it shock but not electrical. Just that he would have me imagine, you know, like the embarrassment, things like that. He wanted me to think about that as a safeguard, as a keeping still. And I went along with the game.” The sessions did not cure Gauthe’s pedophilia.

The next year, 1973, Gerard Frey became bishop of the Lafayette Diocese. A native New Orleanian who entered the seminary in high school, he was previously the bishop of Savannah, Ga. In 1973 he transferred Gauthe to a parish in New Iberia. In deposition, the bishop explained Gauthe’s transfer: “There were two sisters at the parish who were pushing the cause of the cane field workers. He [Gauthe] look their side and the pastor took the other side, and there was a clash of personalities.”

But this {?}is not the memory of others in Broussard in 1972.

The Times spoke with two nuns organizing cane field workers in Broussard in 1972. They are no longer in Louisiana. They say Gauthe’s activities troubled Broussard clergy early on. Gauthe called a boy out of parochial school class one day. One nun says another sister told her one evening after one such call, “God forgive me for what I thought when [the boy] returned to class and I saw the expression on his face.” The sisters made a rule never to allow children to leave school grounds to go to the rectory

“If most people were like me,” says the nun, “when they became suspicious, they were afraid to falsely accuse. I noticed how he’d have little boys spend Friday and Saturday nights in the rectory [where he lived alone.] I thought, how inappropriate—but also how sad, that a man would depend on the companionship of children. The more I worried about it, I felt caught between my growing suspicion and the need to bring the matter to others.”

The pastor, Rev. Joseph Kemps, was an old Dutchman who lived in his own house. The nun says Kemps “had utter disrespect” for Gauthe and complained of “his theology being so shallow. Father Kemps complained that Gauthe was not smart and didn’t get good seminary training.”

By that time, O’Connell had left Immaculata and was organizing Broussard sugar cane workers in a struggle for better wages. The sisters sided with the workers, opposed by planters and mill owners. Another nun says she asked O’Connell about Gauthe’s “problem,” and recalls “he responded in such a way as to imply that the rumors were true. I presumed [Gauthe’s] change in assignment [to New Iberia] was one way in which the bishop was handling the situation.”

O’Connell does not remember specifics of the conversation with the nun about Gauthe. He says he did not broach the subject with Bishop Frey.

The memory of former Broussard clergy concerning the sugar cane controversy is at variance with the bishop’s. According to O’Connell and the nuns, rather than siding with them, Gauthe opposed their labor organizing—to the point of denouncing them at one meeting. At another meeting, a mill owner jotted down license tag numbers of cars outside and shook his fist in a sister’s face. “That same group,” O’Connell explains, “decided they were going to take her out as principal of the school and put Gauthe in.” At that, they failed.

“Gauthe never should have been ordained,” O’Connell says. “I knew he had a problem. As far as his being gay—being effeminate, that was common knowledge. But the two things are not necessarily identified with the active part of it. I don’t know of it being reported at all. I doubt if many knew he was [homosexually active]. Those in authority, what they knew, I don’t know.”

Father Kemps is now deceased.

In 1974 the church hierarchy first had Gauthe’s misconduct brought to its attention. Bishop Frey has stated in deposition, “A young man stopped me and told me he had been counseling a young man who had emotional problems and in the course of counseling he’d found out that he had a sexual—homosexual contact with Gauthe.”

The bishop said his source “seemed to be disturbed by the thing and I didn’t want to pursue it with him.” The bishop confronted Gauthe. “This was while he was in New Iberia. I talked to Gauthe, and he admitted that he had made a mistake, that he had been guilty of imprudent touches with this young man, that it was an isolated case, incident, that it would never happen again,” he said.

Gauthe continued his career as a priest.

The following year, 1975, Bishop Frey appointed Gauthe chaplain of the diocesan Boy Scouts. The actual recommendation for Gauthe’s appointment came from Msgr. Jude Speyer who was then diocesan chancellor. He is now bishop of Lake Charles. The bishop said in deposition that the job involved office work and little contact with boys in the troops.

While in New Iberia, Gauthe shared the rectory with several other priests. In deposition he said he molested six boys in the parish—“in the sacristy, my bedroom and the motor home camper.” He also stated, “No priest ever confronted me.”

In 1976, at the end of his three-year term in New Iberia, Gauthe became assistant pastor at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Abbeville. The day he arrived, several boys from New Iberia helped him move into his room on the ground floor of the rectory shared with three other priests.

Again in 1976, Gauthe’s behavior came to the attention of other clergy. According to depositions, Msgr. Richard Mouton, the Abbeville pastor, met with two parishioners who complained that Gauthe had licked their sons on the cheeks in his camper. Mouton called Msgr. Henri Larroque, vicar general of the Lafayette Diocese, who said Gauthe should receive treatment.

Mouton confronted Gauthe. Mouton has stated Gauthe said, “I am not a homosexual.” “Well,” said Mouton, “whatever you are, you’ll have to go for treatment.”

Gauthe remained active as an Abbeville priest while seeing Dr. David Rees, a Lafayette psychiatrist, for six sessions culminating in February 1977. The diocese paid the bill. Mouton never inquired of Gauthe about his treatment. Asked why by attorney Simon in deposition, he replied, “I am trained as a priest to forget sins.”

Mouton did take two prudent steps: He forbade Gauthe to have youngsters in the rectory, and he moved his bedroom to the upper floor. Meanwhile, Gauthe continued camping trips and outings with boys. He also traveled to Puerto Rico with the Biddy Basketball team.

Of his second set of therapy sessions, Gauthe stated: “I downplayed and actually lied to both the psychiatrist and Monsignor Mouton. I made it seem like it was not as serious as it really was.”

No Church superior contacted Dr. Rees to check on the progress of Gauthe’s therapy. Only after Gauthe’s 1983 suspension from the priesthood did the bishop confer with the psychiatrist. The bishop has stated he had felt such an inquiry would violate physician-client confidentiality, a privilege analogous to the seal of the confessional.

How did the Church chain of command function in monitoring Gilbert Gauthe? By 1976 he had been a priest for five years but always as an assistant pastor. He had received counseling for sexual misconduct with children. Catholicism accepts human failings as sins to be forgiven. But how psychologically stable was Gauthe?

In late 1976, the bishop asked Mouton if there had been further incidents. Mouton said no. In his depositions, Simon focused on the process leading to Gauthe’s appointment as pastor in Henry the following year. “Of course, [Mouton was] watching him,” Bishop Frey told the lawyer. “They live together every day. And he had no—nothing of any importance to report.”

As diocesan vicar general, Larroque is the bishop’s right hand, the man charged with daily operations and record-keeping. In his sworn statement, Larroque said he did not make a formal inquiry but had spoken with Gauthe about the Abbeville incident and his therapy. Larroque, however, said he remembered little of the conversation. “I simply presumed the matter had been covered by the doctor,” he stated.

Simon wanted to know if it was unusual for children to sleep in rectories. Larroque answered: “No, it is certainly not unusual to have guests in the rectory under any circumstances. It would not be unusual to have young people or adults to sleep at the rectory.”

Bishop Frey has since prohibited diocesan priests from having unaccompanied children as overnight guests in rectories.

In late 1977, nine months after therapy terminated with Rees, Gauthe was summoned to the chancery to discuss a new post with the bishop. “I have some very difficult problems with authority figures, to put it frankly,” Gauthe said. “I’d shake in my boots every time I would go into the rectory.” He told Frey he was prepared for the new position, and on Dec. 23, 1977, became pastor of St. John’s church in Henry. He lived alone in the rectory for the next five and a half years with little boys as frequent guests.

Father Gauthe was a man before whom his young victims saw their parents kneel, a man to whom parent and child alike confessed sins, a surrogate father and a figure of consummate authority.

“He’s a very very unique person,” the bishop has stated. “He’s got a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality . . . and he certainly deceived me.”

But on April 5, 1980, a letter signed “Concerned Parishioners of St. John’s Parish” went to Frey, complaining about Gauthe. The letter read: “Father’s house became a second home to a bunch of Abbeville boys who are often left unsupervised . . . . Father even took an Abbeville boy out of school to help him fix his camp. At the camp is where Father stays constantly,” the letter read.

Frey referred the letter to assistants, who reported that the complaints were superficial. No action was taken to determine what, exactly, Abbeville boys were doing at the rectory. According to depositions, Frey did not meet with Gauthe about the letter. Neither did Larroque.

How It Unfolded

On June 27, 1980, a man met with Abbeville attorney Paul Hebert and said he’d learned his three sons had been sexually molested by Fr. Gilbert Gauthe in Henry for several years. Hebert, a Catholic, says: “My first thought was not damages: just get rid of this priest. It was a horror story. I called the diocese in Lafayette and asked for Bishop Frey. Monsignor Larroque told me the bishop was at his camp in Bay St. Louis. My response was he ought to come back right now. We went to see Larroque.”

The vicar general met with Hebert, the father and two of the boys, expressing sympathy, pledging that he would take action. He did, but not fast enough for attorney Hebert. “I remember calling Larroque every night for the next three days. I was concerned that some parents might harm Gauthe. At that time, it had never been firmly set in my mind, or my clients’, that the Church had a legal responsibility for the tort,” Hebert told The Times. In a matter of days, Hebert had four families wanting representation, wanting justice.

Larroque drove to Bay St. Louis the morning after he met with the Hebert party and conferred with the bishop. Two days later he called Gauthe to the chancery in Lafayette. “Gil” said Larroque, “we have a big problem. It’s with little boys.” And Gilbert Gauthe began to weep.

Larroque presented Gauthe with papers he signed, suspending him from the priesthood on the spot. He gave Gauthe 24 hours to leave Henry. The next morning Gauthe said mass as scheduled. When the housekeeper arrived Saturday morning, the priest was gone. Two ladies of the parish packed his heavier belongings and sent them to Napoleonville where, rumor had it, he’d gone to recuperate from a nervous breakdown.

The sons of Hebert’s initial clients were altar boys. The lawyer asked Larroque to have the Church contact families of all altar boys in Henry and the nearby chapel at Esther, where Gauthe served mass regularly. The parents wanted Gauthe jailed immediately. Hebert explained that it would require statements by the children to legal authorities, and this troubled everyone.

“If most people were like me,” says one nun suspicious of Gauthe, “they were afraid to falsely accuse. The more I worried about it, I felt caught between my growing suspicion and the need to bring the matter to others.”

Doubting his own ability to assess the human damage, Hebert arranged for psychotherapy sessions with Dr. Bouillion in Lafayette. The children told Bouillion about others, and others, and others. Faced with widening legal ramifications, Hebert once again asked Larroque to have the Church contact parents of other children. But, Hebert says, this did not happen. Weeks passed. Hebert, frustrated at the diocese’s procrastination, contacted a former law school classmate, Raul Bencomo of New Orleans, a plaintiffs’ attorney experienced in damages litigation.

“I didn’t want my vision of what I knew the Church’s legal position to be affected by my faith,” Hebert explains, “and because of the case being so difficult, I felt it would be better to bring in someone from outside the area, totally immune.”

Finally, on Aug. 12, 1983—six weeks after Gauthe’s removal—Bishop Frey wrote Hebert proposing a meeting with “a core group of families” and a psychologist. “I have committed the financial resources of the diocese for whatever counseling may be necessary or advantageous to those affected. The caution which has been exercised throughout may have been impeded by {sic} the proper communication of the actions taken by the diocese. This caution was necessary not simply to avoid scandal and harm to the Church but primarily to avoid any further injury or trauma to the young people and their families or other innocent parties.”

But by then the die was cast. Bencomo wrote the bishop on August 19 requesting a meeting to review the Church’s insurance policies. “In the meantime,” the lawyer wrote, “we do ask that the Church and its representatives not make contact, either directly or indirectly, with any of the aforenamed families.” The letter requested that Bencomo be contacted on all matters pertaining to his clients.

“We didn’t want to begin and end with Gauthe. We wanted to get to the upper councils of the Church to say, ‘You’re not running a good clean house.’”
Victims’ attorney Raul Bencomo

“Only four families were referred to in the letter,” Bencomo says. “Nothing, in my mind, should have stopped them from contacting others.”

In January 1984, Bishop Frey has stated he read Dr. Bouillion’s report on the victims; this was accompanied by an independent assessment written by consulting psychologist Dr. Edward Schwere {sic} of New Orleans, a specialist in child sexual abuse. Because The Times was denied interviews with Frey and Larroque, we have been unable to determine how many families of Gauthe’s victims have, or have not, been contacted.

Render Unto Caesar

Shortly after Gauthe’s removal, Mouton gave a sermon in Henry saying Gauthe left the parish because of “serious moral indiscretions.” To one parent he later proposed that the children come and confess their sins.

Gauthe spent several days in Opelousas after leaving Henry, saw a psychiatrist, then returned to his family home in Napoleonville. Larroque remained in contact with him, and in August, arranged for a screening at the House of Affirmation, a Church-run treatment facility for troubled clergy in Whitinsville, Mass., a suburb of Boston. Gauthe returned to Napoleonville where he lived for another two months before departing for the House of Affirmation. He remained in treatment there for the following year. The Lafayette Diocese paid the bill.

By October 1983, Raul Bencomo was well into negotiations with lawyers for the Church and insurance companies on claims of nine victims and their families. The legal premise behind the suits is “respondeat superior,” which means, simply, that an organization may be found liable for damages by its employees. In parishes across America, Church insurance policies cover such possible mishaps, like automobile accidents involving clergy or injuries to visitors on Church property.

Bob Wright of Lafayette represented the diocese. New Orleans lawyer Thomas Rayer represented the archdiocese, and Robert Leake, also of New Orleans, served as lead counsel for a bevy of insurance companies holding the diocese’s policies. These are: Lloyds of London, Fire and Casualty Insurance, Houston General Insurance, Pacific Employees Insurance, Interstate National Insurance, Centennial Insurance, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (of Illinois) and Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance.

Long sessions among the lawyers dealt with hard questions. How does a carrier compensate for the destruction of innocence? How many years of treatment, and at what projected cost, are necessary in a life-cycle forecast to treat a sexually abused child?

“We took the position,” Bencomo says, “that the psychological processes involved in incest cases were the same here. My concern has been privacy to protect the kids.” By spring of 1984, with settlement negotiations drawing to a close, nine months had passed since Gauthe s removal, and not a word had surfaced in the media.

On his end, Hebert had to deal with clients who wanted Gauthe arrested and put in jail. Early on, he had arranged a meeting with his clients and District Attorney Nathan Stansbury, who explained that, to return an indictment, a grand jury would need testimony from victimized children. The parties agreed that Dr. Bouillion, continuing therapy with the young people, would prepare them for the eventual testimony.

Bencomo took an aggressive approach in the settlement negotiation. “We didn’t want to begin and end with Gauthe. We wanted to get to upper councils of the Church to say, ‘You’re not running a good clean house.’

“I think they’ve been totally remiss toward their flock. I wanted a broader type of recovery and redress. They should be offering psychological counseling to all the afflicted families at their expense. The Church was trying to obviate the need for publicity with the settlements. They did attempt—because of confidentiality—to pay fair damages in each instance. I still wanted them to circulate a memo, to have the bishop issue edicts for new procedures to check such instances. The amount of suffering a child will incur—the sleepless nights, elements that are intangible, but real: like loss of innocence—all this was crucial.

“I as a lawyer am distinguishing between the Church as a business-like institution and the Church as a religious institution. I was an altar boy and once considered the priesthood. My course of action, my lawsuit, my anger stems from the fact that the Church, at least the diocese in Lafayette, is a poorly managed, shoddily run operation.”

In June of 1984, the negotiations concluded. The $4-million-plus settlement was spread among nine plaintiffs; a third of the fees went to attorneys, with medical and professional expenses deducted. But an emotional wall divided the Vermilion families from the Church; they wanted to re-establish a human rapport. Hebert contacted the chancery, and Msgr. Larroque agreed to a retreat. Jesuits at Grand Coteau scheduled a weekend, but the diocese backed down on grounds that new litigation with other families prevented the bishop’s participation for legal reasons.

“As a lawyer I understood that,” says Hebert, “but as a Catholic I was disappointed by the absence of a spiritual reconciliation.”

End of Part I
{See Part II.}

Louisiana journalist Jason Berry is the author of Amazing Grace, which chronicles the civil rights impact on Mississippi politics. A Catholic, he is a graduate of Jesuit High School in New Orleans and Georgetown University.


Anatomy of a Cover-Up

Anatomy of a Cover-Up

The Diocese of Lafayette and its moral responsibility for the pedophilia scandal

By Jason Berry
The Times of Acadiana
January 30, 1986

From the link:

Father Gilbert Gauthe

Father Gilbert Gauthe

The integrity of an institution is built on trust between those who lead and those who follow. Since revelations of Gilbert Gauthe’s crimes rocked Acadiana in autumn 1984, chancery officials have erected a wall of silence, offering scant explanation to the Catholic faithful.

A two month investigation by The Times—based on legal documents and interviews with a broad range of sources, including several with active knowledge of the chancery’s inner workings—reveals a chain of events involving a total of seven priests accused of sexual involvements with youths. In most cases, Bishop Gerard Frey and Msgr. H.A. Larroque knew of the priests’ sexual problems and failed to take strong disciplinary action.

The bishop and vicar general have engaged in a cover-up, however it has been a strange one, wedded to a monarchical concept of power, divorced from democratic principles. In refusing to extend the pastoral hand to victims’ families—and deal candidly with the laity and clergy alike—Frey and Larroque have let insurance lawyers dictate their silence. And in a cruelly ironic twist, blunders by those lawyers have deepened the stain of scandal about the diocese. In real dollar terms, the cover-up has been a disaster.

In human terms, the story of a brutal tragedy is emerging, being told through the contours of legal documents and many interviews. According to a consensus of well-placed sources including case workers in Vermilion Parish, Gilbert Gauthe molested at least 100 boys in his years as a priest. Moreover, in New Iberia during the mid-70s, Gauthe and Father Lane Fontenot had sexual encounters with four boys in a ring of common victims, according to sources in the two civil parishes. A damages suit against those two priests on behalf of one victim was filed under protective seal last fall.

Bishop Gerard Frey

Bishop Gerard Frey

The Times has learned that another priest—a close friend of Fontenot’s since seminary days at Immaculata, and who once held an important diocesan position—was sent to a Northern treatment center last spring. Informed sources say he was removed some time after there were reports of sexual involvements with adolescent boys. Because he is not legally charged with sexual offenses, The Times chose not to divulge his identity. “He rationalized celibacy by saying it meant being single and not having a wife,” says a source who knew him.

Yet another priest has been identified by four well-placed sources as a man who seduced youngsters in a parish near Lafayette. He also once held a diocesan position, and was sent off for treatment out-of-state in 1984. Because he is not legally accused or sought for questioning in known litigation, The Times has withheld his identity. In 1985, however, he returned to a parish in another Louisiana diocese. Reached by telephone at that church, the priest said: “I do not wish to be interviewed.” The bishop of that diocese declined to be interviewed.

Banking on Blind Faith

“They knew something was up with Gauthe,” a well-placed source says, “but they thought it would never come out. They thought they could instill the fear in people [who might sue]—that they were up against the church, that they were doomed. The attitude was, ‘We don’t have to say anything.’ They feel they’re impervious because of the people’s faith.”

Diocesan counsel Bob Wright, citing pending civil litigation, refused The Times’ interview requests with the bishop and vicar general. So far, the bulk of $5.5 million in damages—compensating 13 children among nine families victimized by Gauthe—has been paid by different combinations of seven insurance firms. Attorneys Raul Bencomo and Paul Hebert negotiated for the plaintiffs. The diocese has paid 15 to 20 percent of the settlements.

A series of delaying tactics by insurance attorneys has eroded {“Eroded” is perhaps not the correct word. It is difficult to read in our copy.} the leverage of Frey and Larroque to restore confidence in their stewardship. Sources say the churchmen long ago wanted to settle the cases and put the scandal behind them yet remain powerless before the defense lawyers, who demanded silence of them.

As this issue went to press, Wright conceded that insurance lawyers and J. Minos Simon, attorney for the Gastal family, whose son was molested by Gauthe in Henry, were “far apart” on a negotiated settlement. Simon told The Times: “I am expecting a trial. I want to try this case.” Jury selection is slated for Feb. 3 in Abbeville. In the event an 11th-hour agreement is reached—as in the last three Hebert-Bencomo suits—Simon’s clients stand to receive substantially more than the $420,000 per victim which has been paid out in past settlements.

Meanwhile, eight suits against Gauthe, the one involving Gauthe and Fontenot, and three accusing Father John Engbers of pedophilia remain in litigation brought by various lawyers. The defense has not accepted liability in those cases and the prescription issue—whether the suits were filed within a year of when the injuries were sustained—is also unresolved.

The Failure of Forgiveness

Nothing in Gerard Frey’s background prepared him for this. Scion of a prosperous New Orleans family, he was bishop of Savannah, Ga., before replacing the aging Bishop Maurice Schexnayder in 1973. By all accounts a shy man, Frey’s philosophy was to delegate power across mid- and lower-echelons of the diocese and otherwise govern quietly. In the spirit of Vatican II, he encouraged greater involvement among lay people in parish councils and diocesan programs, particularly religious education.

Through the late 1970s, Frey relied on then-Msgr. Jude Speyrer, chancellor, and Alex Larroque as vicar general to handle daily affairs and advise him. When Speyrer became bishop of Lake Charles in 1980, Larroque assumed an even greater position of importance. Sources say that a change came over Bishop Frey in the early 1980s. His shyness gave way to an aloof detachment. He now reportedly spends long stretches at his family’s resort camp in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Larroque manages the diocese’s daily affairs and functions as the bishop’s alter-ego.

“Frey hates confrontations,” another source explains. “I’m convinced the bishop knew all along about the pedophilia, but I don’t think he knew any other way to handle it. In the past, they called in people [when a priest molested a youth], provided counseling, made a settlement with the family, swore them to secrecy, and moved the priest. I think the bishop did a lot of things that were wrong by moving people repeatedly. He has to believe a priest is being straight with him when he says he’ll behave. You don’t have enough priests to go around. He can’t automatically say, ‘I’m sending you off for treatment.'”

This ingrained philosophy of forgiveness—once a priest, always a priest—seems incapable of dealing with addictive pedophiles, who often cannot admit that seducing youngsters is wrong. Moreover, Frey and Larroque’s handling of Gauthe, Fontenot and Engbers runs counter to Article 25 of the Louisiana Criminal Code, which defines accessories after the fact as “any person who, after the commission of a felony, shall harbor, conceal, or aid the offender, knowing or having any reasonable ground to believe that he has committed the felony, and with the intent that he may avoid or escape from arrest, trial, convictions or punishment.”

According to Oliver Houck, law professor at Tulane University and a former federal prosecutor, the statute “does not require that the offender be arrested or convicted. What [a supervisory figure] knew and when he knew it is a question of criminal negligence; what he should have known is the realm of civil negligence.”

Origins of the Cover-Up

How much did diocesan officials know and how long did they cover-up the actions of the accused priests? In civil depositions, Frey says that he learned in 1974 that Gauthe admitted to “impure touches” with a boy in Broussard the year before; Gauthe promised him it would not happen again. In 1976 Larroque ordered Gauthe to see a psychiatrist after he kissed two Abbeville boys in a camper. There was no meaningful follow-up by the chancery, nor was Gauthe reported to law-enforcement officials. And now new information draws sharper focus on that period, when Gauthe and Fontenot were in New Iberia.

Ronald Lane Fontenot, born in Eunice in 1946, was ordained in Lafayette in December 1975. His first assistant pastorship was St. Peter the Apostle in Gueydan. The pastor there was John Engbers. The Times knows of no alleged molestations by Engbers in Gueydan, however sources say Fontenot tried to seduce a young man after hearing his confession there. Three years is the average stay for an assistant pastor. The sources do not know if Fontenot was reported to the chancery while in Gueydan. But after only six months, in June 1976, he was transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Iberia where Gilbert Gauthe had been seducing altar boys and other kids on camping trips.

In deposition Msgr. Richard Mouton of Abbeville says he was told that Fr. Joseph Bourque, the New Iberia pastor, wrote to the chancery complaining about Gauthe. Asked about the letter, Father Bourque told The Times: “Any statement I would have to make would come through the chancery office or the [diocesan] attorney.”

But according to a New Iberia family, they reported both priests for molesting altar boys. “It wasn’t but about a month or so later that [Bourque] transferred Father Gauthe and that other [one], Father Lane Fontenot, out of our church.”

Gauthe went to St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Abbeville, but continued relationships with youngsters in New Iberia. As for Fontenot, he lasted only nine months in New Iberia, moving to Our Lady of Mercy in Opelousas in March 1977. There, says a priest who learned of it years later, “he molested many kids.” Why was Fontenot moved out of New Iberia so quickly if Bourque did not request it? Only the bishop can move a priest. In any event, Lane Fontenot climbed the diocesan ladder. By 1982, as Priest in Charge of Spiritual Development for the diocese, he was giving charismatic sermons to Catholic youth rallies.

A disturbing symmetry links Gauthe and Fontenot in another way. In 1975, on recommendation of then-Msgr. Speyrer, Frey named Gauthe diocesan Boy Scout chaplain—while he was in New Iberia, and after Frey knew Gauthe had molested a boy in Broussard. Even if he believed Gauthe was controlling his urges, why put a man like that in a position involving Boy Scouts? If, as the parent claims, Fontenot left New Iberia because of sexual misconduct, why would a man like that be allowed to work so closely with youngsters in Lafayette? Even the philosophy of forgiveness would seemingly be tempered by prudence in personnel assignments.

Fontenot, who lived at Our Lady of Fatima, was hustled out of Lafayette in autumn 1983, six months after Gauthe, when a family accused him of molesting their son. As reported last June, a settlement was reportedly paid to the family. Fontenot followed Gauthe to the Church-run House of Affirmation in a Boston suburb. In 1984, still another priest, Fr. Robert Limoges, left for an undisclosed treatment center after families in Eunice and Lafayette complained to their respective district attorneys.

Trouble with the Lawyers

It is doubtful whether these events would have become publicly known had the bishop in the wake of Gauthe’s June 30, 1983, suspension gone immediately to Henry, told parishioners what Gauthe had done, hired a psychiatrist and offered therapy to families with youngsters molested by Gauthe. “We never planned on suing,” the parent of one of the initial families says. “We just wanted help for our children, and we wanted Church officials to come meet with us and tell everybody what was what. To this day they haven’t done it. That’s what hurts so much.”

Instead, lawyers were called in to represent the Church insurors. The classic defense in high-dollar damages litigation is to delay, negotiate, and keep everything under wraps. This approach melded with the chancery’s strategy of silence on sex abuse, however it is unclear whether the lawyers learned how much Frey and Larroque knew about other priests. Four New Orleans lawyers formed the defense team: Thomas Rayer, counsel for the Archdiocese, Robert Leake, Charles Schmidt, and Gordon Johnson, representing insurors. They have repeatedly declined The Times’ interview requests.

After closed-door negotiations with Bencomo over the first nine Gauthe victims the defense in June 1984 agreed to $4.2 million settlements. That, however, was done without ever taking depositions of Dr. Edward Shwery, the psychologist who wrote the document analyzing the sexual abuse, or Dr. Kenneth Bouillion, the therapist treating the boys.

“I think there’s a feeling that they gave the cart away before the horse,” Wright told The Times recently.

After J. Minos Simon took over the Gastals’ suit, the defense faced a more radical adversary, yet the legal scrimmaging was marked by procedural fumbles opening a swath for Simon’s steamroller. In his discovery phase—the period of pre-trial questioning by lawyers of prospective witnesses to gain information for later use in court—Simon demanded files on 27 priests regarding their sexual conduct. The defense lawyers, instead of mounting an aggressive counter-attack to protect the reputations of other priests, failed to seal the document and continued playing for time. The list was entered as a court document, available to reporters. No Church representative took to the airwaves challenging Simon’s bold charges. Nor did the insurance lawyers appear to take the allegations about other priests very seriously. Leake called it “a fishing expedition.”

At a January hearing in Abbeville to argue the matter nobody for the defense showed up—at the very least, an act of faulty representation for both Church and insurance clients. They missed a hearing on another matter called at their request some time later, and on Oct. 11, 1985, when the Gastal boy’s therapist, Dr. Lyle LeCorgne, accompanied Simon to a deposition scheduled in Wright’s office, once again the defense did not show up. Whether arrogance or ineptitude explains such behavior, the net result worsened prospects for a negotiated settlement in the Gastal suit. And to an attorney like Simon, it had the effect of waving a red flag in front of a charging bull.

As Simon’s aggressive discovery probe began to outline the dimensions of the pedophilia problem in the diocese last year, Frey and Larroque had another force to contend with in attorney Tony Fontana, whose clients, the Butaud sisters, were clamoring to have Father John Engbers removed from Leroy. They alleged that Engbers had molested them when they were children in the mid-1950s. Like defense lawyers, Frey and Larroque stalled—but in a fashion bordering on criminal negligence: for eight months they let an accused child molester remain at the parish in Leroy without telling parishioners or law enforcement authorities.

In June, Judge Bradford Ware ruled Simon had discovery rights to files on pedophile priests. This prompted defense attorney Leake’s verbal stipulation to liability, theoretically halting Simon’s discovery onslaught. By then damage to the chancery’s image had been immense. More sources were leaking information, this time to The Times. Of the priests named in this article, only Fontenot appears on Simon’s list.

Still the defense delayed. Wright, a veteran plaintiffs’ attorney, had long advocated a liability stipulation while Leake resisted. Ironically, Wright became the point man for reporters in Lafayette. When it finally came, the written stipulation dissatisfied Simon—and Hebert and Bencomo on their cases. Simon attacked again, this time after a young man came to his office with allegations against Fr. Lloyd Hebert of Opelousas. The man wanted Fr. Hebert removed. Simon issued a subpoena to depose Hebert, and when that happened Wright stipulated to liability in open court at the end of June, ending Simon’s discovery once and for all, saving the priest from being deposed. Hebert left Opelousas to live with relatives.

At the end of July, Father John Engbers, the seventh priest in this diocese accused of sexual misconduct, fled to Holland.

By mid-autumn, Gauthe had gone to prison but the scandal which began with revelations of his misconduct had become a seemingly bottomless pit. The insurors were paying large sums to Hebert-Bencomo clients in negotiated settlements, but with the Gastals, defense lawyers took the more aggressive step of deposing the parents and child to decide how much their suffering was worth. At the heart of Simon’s case is the issue of consortium—how Gauthe’s sexual invasions altered the family’s life: the boy, his relationship to the parents, the family’s bond to the church.

Fontana on the Offensive

Tony Fontana has six Gauthe suits for which the insurors have not stipulated liability; his discovery powers remain open. With the Engbers suits, he faces a steep incline on the time prescription issue. A devout Catholic, he says: “I feel betrayed by Frey and Larroque. I’m not sure if I want stipulation, because then I have to prove liability—how much Frey and Larroque knew. The damages in these cases are going to come from outrage—not that Gauthe molested kids—but that Frey knew about Gauthe in 1975.” Fontana recently filed a motion to unseal two names of his Gauthe victims, clearing the way for depositions of Frey, Larroque and others.

When Fontana filed interrogatories on the Engbers case earlier this month, he effectively began where Simon left off. Hearings on this matter and the controversial question of prescription—whether, many years after Engbers’ alleged crimes, the Butaud sisters have litigable claims—are scheduled for Feb. 10 in Lafayette. Earlier this month Fontana filed another suit on behalf of two Lake Charles sisters, Brenda Andrepont Gossett and Judy Andrepont Tish, now adults, who claim Engbers molested them when they were children in the early 1950s. A third suit on behalf of an unnamed minor child has also been filed against Engbers and the diocese.

Where Will It End?

Beneath the legalities and mountains of money, dozens of youngsters have been molested and many families bitterly hurt by the chancery’s long policy of silence. Seven priests—Gauthe, Fontenot, Limoges, Engbers, Hebert, the priest in treatment and the priest now in another diocese—have left Lafayette diocesan parishes. The sexual map of their movements includes Broussard, New Iberia, Abbeville, Henry, Esther, Lake Charles, Louisa, Opelousas, Lafayette, Eunice, Gueydan, Sunset, and Leroy. Of them, only Gauthe is known to have been suspended and even he has not been formally defrocked.

What explains the silence by the bishop and vicar general? Why have they resisted candid dialogue with the laity and as pastors begun the healing process?

In one sense, the churchmen acted as their tradition suggested. The Catholic Church is governed by a monarchical sensibility. Appointed by the pope, each bishop is effectively regent of his diocese. Lay people cannot impeach a bishop or elect a new one. The Apostolic Delegate—the Vatican’s ambassador in Washington—acts for the pope in naming new bishops, who retire when they wish or by age 75. Frey is 71.

The trappings of this monarchical structure have for generations been a source of pride to Catholics, who traditionally cherish the milieu of churches, the splendor of choral masses at Advent and at Easter. The bishops in their robes of watered silk, like priests in bright vestments of the seasons, embody sacred links to a spiritual lineage spanning 20 centuries.

Bishop Frey and Msgr. Larroque relied on a royalist defense by ___ring themselves from the truth. But the cover-up was doomed to shatter on a collision course with democracy, the court system and a free press. The issue around which all others pivot is the rights of children. And in this respect, the Church betrayed her own historic commitment to the sanctity of families. Frey and Larroque never realized that. Instead they held fast to a notion that “the Church” must be saved from scandal. But the Church is not marble and mortar, it is a community of faithful people bonded by an ethos of human dignity. In their myopia the two leaders became truly tragic figures, shifting the focus to themselves, and when others who knew too much felt outrage mount, the wall of silence began to crack. Even now, looking through the jagged holes, a terrible question remains: why did it happen here?

What the Catholic bishop knew

What the Catholic bishop knew

Eamonn O’Neill talks to F Ray Mouton, one of the authors of ‘The Manual’, a 1985 report into child abuse in the clergy which he claims the church suppressed

F. Ray Mouton

F. Ray Mouton


Now retired, F Ray Mouton spends his days writing his novel, Beyond Familiar Altars – a story of scandal and cover-up in the Catholic church. The media from various corners of the world have made repeated attempts to interview the 63-year-old former defence lawyer, but Mouton has – until now – chosen to lie low.

He is sought after because of events he was party to just over a quarter of a century ago – events which included a secret meeting with Cardinal William Levada, who now holds one of the highest positions in the Vatican.

In 1984 Mouton, then a successful young lawyer in Louisiana, was having lunch with the local Roman Catholic church top brass. He was asked to defend a priest accused of child abuse – the first legally recorded case of its kind.

His client was Father Gilbert Gauthe, and he was accused of abusing dozens of children in Henry, a rural, deeply devout Catholic community. The church was already paying out millions to families who signed confidentiality clauses. But one family, the Gastals, whose son Scott was abused by Gauthe, refused to stay silent, and instead urged the local district attorney to file 37 criminal charges against the clergyman. “The priest needed his own counsel in the criminal matter and also in the civil cases where he was a lead defendant,” says Mouton. Despite death threats and the nature of the crimes, Mouton accepted the case.

“I believed this priest was a sole, aberrant individual and that there could not possibly be other men of the cloth who serially sexually abused children,” he explains. “I believed then that this priest should receive a fair sentence – 20 years in a facility where he could be treated for his condition, a time sufficient to allow his youngest victims to grow to be about 30 years old prior to his release. And I believed no one in the diocese could have known about these horrendous crimes without having reported them to the police and removing this man from the priesthood.”

Father Gilbert Gauthe

Father Gilbert Gauthe

At the time, Mouton didn’t think the priest’s employers – the church – could be held responsible for the criminal actions of someone they’d hired. He soon changed his mind: “I would come to believe that not only is a priest who abuses a child acting out of pathology, but a bishop covering up such heinous crimes is afflicted with a deeper, darker pathology that poses as great a threat, or even a greater threat, to society – for it was the bishops and the Vatican that empowered and enabled these criminals … to avoid scandal to the church.”

Now retired, F Ray Mouton spends his days writing his novel, Beyond Familiar Altars – a story of scandal and cover-up in the Catholic church. The media from various corners of the world have made repeated attempts to interview the 63-year-old former defence lawyer, but Mouton has – until now – chosen to lie low.

He is sought after because of events he was party to just over a quarter of a century ago – events which included a secret meeting with Cardinal William Levada, who now holds one of the highest positions in the Vatican.

In 1984 Mouton, then a successful young lawyer in Louisiana, was having lunch with the local Roman Catholic church top brass. He was asked to defend a priest accused of child abuse – the first legally recorded case of its kind.

His client was Father Gilbert Gauthe, and he was accused of abusing dozens of children in Henry, a rural, deeply devout Catholic community. The church was already paying out millions to families who signed confidentiality clauses. But one family, the Gastals, whose son Scott was abused by Gauthe, refused to stay silent, and instead urged the local district attorney to file 37 criminal charges against the clergyman. “The priest needed his own counsel in the criminal matter and also in the civil cases where he was a lead defendant,” says Mouton. Despite death threats and the nature of the crimes, Mouton accepted the case.

“I believed this priest was a sole, aberrant individual and that there could not possibly be other men of the cloth who serially sexually abused children,” he explains. “I believed then that this priest should receive a fair sentence – 20 years in a facility where he could be treated for his condition, a time sufficient to allow his youngest victims to grow to be about 30 years old prior to his release. And I believed no one in the diocese could have known about these horrendous crimes without having reported them to the police and removing this man from the priesthood.”

At the time, Mouton didn’t think the priest’s employers – the church – could be held responsible for the criminal actions of someone they’d hired. He soon changed his mind: “I would come to believe that not only is a priest who abuses a child acting out of pathology, but a bishop covering up such heinous crimes is afflicted with a deeper, darker pathology that poses as great a threat, or even a greater threat, to society – for it was the bishops and the Vatican that empowered and enabled these criminals … to avoid scandal to the church.”

Gauthe pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. The Gastal family were awarded $1.2m (£790,000) in damages. Mouton recalls: “This was the turning point … that verdict was reported prominently in media [and] was … heard in every plaintiff law office in the United States.”

While defending Gauthe, Mouton found out that the church had in fact known about his crimes since seminary and had moved him around parishes. He had also seen evidence that convinced him that there were other abusing priests across the US. When the case ended, he could have walked away. Instead, he decided to try to help the church get out of the mess it was in. He joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, who was the canon lawyer in the papal nunciature and Vatican embassy in Washington DC, and Father Michael Peterson, a priest-psychiatrist who treated sexually dysfunctional priests.

The three hatched a plan to pool their knowledge in the form of a “manual”, which would warn the church about the danger to children – and to the institution itself – posed by sexual abusers, and offer advice about what should be done.

Mouton says the report’s authors believed they had the support of senior US Roman Catholic figures. “My understanding is that both Doyle and Peterson were having ongoing discussions with men in prominent positions, including Cardinal Law, who verbally supported us drafting this document. The bishop charged with monitoring the crisis and reporting to the pope’s personal representative in the US, Bishop A James Quinn, was also supportive.

“The document was to be presented to an upcoming conference of all bishops in the US with the hope that they would adopt its provisions.”

The result of their labour was a 92-page document. They explained that priests were being accused of abuse on a wide scale and that many were probably guilty. They examined definitions of paedophilia and how it related to the priesthood. The issues were complex, they said, and needed addressing urgently. And while the church’s position was in danger, they urged the hierarchy to do its utmost to protect the vulnerable victims of the clerics’ abuse.

A secret meeting was called at a Chicago hotel in May 1985 to discuss what was now known as The Manual. A low-level auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles attended, called William Levada. Mouton recalls: “The meeting seemingly went well. Bishop Levada vetted every word of the document and seemed to be in full support of [it] being presented to the full conference of bishops. Shortly thereafter, Bishop Levada telephoned Doyle and advised him basically to ‘kill’ our document because the conference had a plan of their own and would form a committee to deal with the issue. “After the conference concluded, it was announced to the media that a committee had been formed to deal with clergy abuse. This turned out to be just another lie, for no committee was formed in the conference until the 90s.”

According to a New York Times report on 20 June 1985 – some weeks after The Manual was privately copied and distributed to scores of bishops by the two priests and Mouton – the Rev Kenneth Doyle, a spokesman for the US Catholic conference in Washington, stated: “We don’t want to give the impression that it’s [sexual abuse cases by priests like Gauthe] a rampant problem for the church, because it is not.”

Statements made by Levada in a legal deposition during an abuse case in California in 2004 record him saying that Mouton’s report didn’t stick in his memory despite its explosive contents: “It’s a long time, and it would be difficult for me to say that I recall having seen it before … I maybe have seen it before, but I don’t recall it now.” He also said he was at the meeting as a “listener” with a brief to report back to Law. He said he didn’t recall whether he told Mouton, Doyle and Peterson if their report and its distribution was “a good idea or not”.

This week, in a statement to the New York Times, Levada said: “As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an auxiliary bishop attending a meeting of our US bishops’ conference … that I became aware of some of the issues.” The conference the cardinal refers to was in June 1985 – a month after the hotel meeting.

n his traditional Christmas address yesterday to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said. “It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than' and a ‘worse than'. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

n his traditional Christmas address yesterday to cardinals and officials working in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI also claimed that child pornography was increasingly considered “normal” by society.
“In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorised as something fully in conformity with man and even with children,” the Pope said.
“It was maintained — even within the realm of Catholic theology — that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a ‘better than’ and a ‘worse than’. Nothing is good or bad in itself.”

In retrospect, Mouton wonders about Levada’s attendance: “Prior to being an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Levada worked in the Vatican in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and from 1981 to early 1983 he worked directly under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was prefect. The trajectory of Levada’s career [since the hotel meeting] was meteoric. In July of 1986 he was made archbishop of Portland, a diocese that mishandled the clergy abuse crisis. Levada was further promoted in August 1995 to archbishop of San Francisco, where he was criticised for his actions in regard to clergy abuse.

“Shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he appointed Archbishop Levada as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and Levada was elevated to cardinal. Thus, [he] is now the person charged with full responsibility for all matters relating to clergy abuse.

“Was Levada the eyes and ears of Ratzinger in that meeting? I only know that he worked with and for Ratzinger and obviously remained close to him for 24 years, and [he] possesses a quality I believe Joseph Ratzinger values above all others: loyalty to Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. ”

Levada has come in for criticism of his handling of so-called “mega-suits” in California and, later, in Portland, Oregon, where his archdiocese filed for bankruptcy after claims running in excess of $50m were settled. In May 2000, Levada authorised a payout of $750,000 to a man who had been sexually assaulted by a priest. The priest who witnessed and reported the offence, Father John Conley, sued for defamation after his church accused him of being unstable and negligent. Just before the case went to trial, Levada authorised a secret deal to “prefund” Conley’s retirement and thus silence him.

In June 2002, in a speech to US bishops in Dallas, Levada called on clerics to ask whether they’d done all they could to crack down on abusers. By the end of the year he was advising Pope John Paul II to develop his so-called “zero-tolerance” policy on the issue. Mouton reflects: “There is no question … that had the bishops around the world, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II adhered to our advice thousands of priests would have been removed from the ministry and turned over to police authorities, and an inestimable number of children would have grown normally through childhood with God’s greatest gift, innocence, intact.”

Sex abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart defends role of celibacy in Catholic Church

Sex abuse royal commission: Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart defends role of celibacy in Catholic Church

Updated 26 Aug 2014, 10:02am

From the link:

Pedophile Pimp, Archbishop Denis Hart

Archbishop Denis Hart


The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has defended the place of celibacy in the church, even though he says it is a burden for some priests.

Archbishop Hart took the stand for a second day at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne on Tuesday, where he was questioned about the causes of abuse by the clergy.

He told the commission celibacy was fulfilling for many priests.

“I believe that celibacy, supported by prayer… is a wonderful vocation and a wonderful engagement with people,” Archbishop Hart said.

“Once it becomes limited, or once it becomes turned in upon itself, then there is a danger, but celibacy rightly lived and prepared for with proper formation, I do believe has a valid function.

“I’ve had sufficient experience with people who’ve found celibacy a burden and have asked the Pope to dispense them from priesthood.

“But on the other hand, I have a much wider experience of people living a celibate life as priests and finding it fulfilling.”

Archbishop Hart said people who trained in the church had high ideals.

“I’m a celibate, I’m not married, I need to have a link to God in prayer,” he said.

“I need to have a balance in my life of proper friendships with other people.”

He said a priest could develop “wrong attitudes” if any of those things fell aside.

“[If] keeping himself focused on who he is and what he does is being neglected, or relationships with people, there’s not a balanced relationship with a group of people and a person becomes isolated,” he said.

“So that they seek out situations which are plain wrong, and they minimise the consequences of that.”

Abuse victims received almost identical letters

The royal commission heard letters of apology signed by the Archbishop and sent to survivors of child sexual abuse were almost identical.

Archbishop Hart said the reason for the identical letters was that the compensation panel for the Melbourne Response was independent and constrained by confidentiality.

“That has the undesirable effect upon me when I write a letter of apology, that I can only refer to the suffering that they’ve undertaken for the burden, that it may be in fairly general terms,” he said.

“I do read all those letters and my apology is sincere.

“I always read them carefully, and for me it’s an important way of my saying how I am shocked by what has happened, how I share in their pain, but there are limitations about what I can do.”

Archbishop Hart said the church tried to change that in the past year.

“We’ve sought to try and get some minimal information, which wouldn’t be a violation of confidence, that might try and take away the pain that a person who’s suffered might feel if they feel they’re just being fobbed off,” he said.

“That was never my intention, and if that happened, I certainly would apologise for it.

“It was never indicated to me that this was unhelpful, had it been, I would certainly have acted sooner.”


Confession should be excluded from mandatory reporting: Church

The royal commission heard the church believes mandatory reporting of abuse should exclude the confessional.

“If that were to be swept away, and I don’t believe that it can be, the possibility of offenders confessing is completely gone. They just wouldn’t go,” Archbishop Hart said.

“In the present situation, it may be the last opportunity that an offender has to face the reality of his or her offences, to be led by the priest, either to give themselves up or to report and confront the enormity of their crimes.”

He said he saw it as an opportunity for a priest to try to persuade an abuser to report themselves to the police.

“I would see that as a valuable opportunity, because if the person in going to confession has at least shown that amount of good to admit that they’ve done wrong, well then, if the priest can lead them to the consequences of that, well that would be of benefit,” he said.

But Archbishop Hart told the royal commission he did not know if that was happening in reality, because of the secrecy of the confessional.

“I don’t know that it’s happened, I don’t know that it hasn’t happened either,” he said.

He told the inquiry he did not subscribe to the view held by some in the past that the abuse of a child was considered a moral failing, not a crime.

“People sometimes had a greater deal of sympathy for a church person than they should have, and they didn’t sufficiently identify the crime that that person had committed for what it was,” he said.

“I would have to admit that, with what we’ve been doing now shows there was too much of a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally,” he said.

“I would say that these crimes occurred to some degree, and that direct and serious enough action was not taken.”

“There was too much of a tendency to minimise the seriousness of the matter, and I repudiate that totally.”

Archbishop Denis Hart

Celibacy and child abuse: why is the Catholic church pre-empting the royal commission?

Celibacy and child abuse: why is the Catholic church pre-empting the royal commission?

It’s a mistake for the Catholic church to get into debates about its folk devils. It should let the royal commission lead on the question of celibacy and child abuse

Adam Brereton Friday 12 December 2014
From the link:

The representative of the Australian Catholic church to the royal commission into child abuse has claimed that “obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to [child] abuse in some circumstances”.

In their 2014 activity report the Truth Justice and Healing Council also recommended that priests undergo “Ongoing training and development, including psycho-sexual development”.

This has been leapt upon as an admission that the church’s regime of sexual discipline for clergy is broken at best, and at worst, is a factor in producing paedophiles.

“By publicly acknowledging the potential role of celibacy in this way, the report sets an international precedent,” The Australian’s Dan Box reported.

It’s not quite as simple as that. The council’s Francis Sullivan told Guardian Australia that their statement on celibacy – one highly-qualified line in the whole report – was “not research that we’ve done that we’ve now come to an opinion on”.

It was merely the council noting that celibacy had been raised by witnesses and victims at the commission, and by the commissioners themselves.

“If we hadn’t alluded to the potential influence of celibacy in an activity report, we would have been criticised for the glaring obvious – in some people’s eyes,” he said.

“More work needs to be done to substantiate the claim”.

He also acknowledged that many priests might struggle to keep their vow and will need assistance. Obviously a breakdown in celibacy doesn’t always mean abuse. Priests in relationships – some which result in children, then kept secret – are no uncommon occurrence.

Celibacy, Sullivan says, is an important issue for the church to deal with.

Pedophile Pimp, Archbishop Denis Hart

Pedophile Pimp, Archbishop Denis Hart

It’s understandable that much of the nuance might be lost given the report’s contradiction of previous pig-headed statements from Archbishop Denis Hart and others about celibacy in the past

Nevertheless, Box’s story “took off like a fire in dry grass”.

The inclusion of the celibacy line in their activity report is, in my view, a mistake on the part of the council. The royal commission itself has not reported on the issue, except to record some victims’ opinions in an appendix to their interim report.

Sullivan thinks this is “neither here nor there” but the hard work of collating the best academic research on the pathologies of abuse is still being done.

To go out in front of the commission and “put celibacy on the table”, as the council has done, has pre-empted the commission’s own findings into the issue. Sullivan knows it’s among the most contentious and politically sensitive issues in the child abuse debate.

He also acknowledged that “it’s an extraordinarily minor element of the report”, compared to broader discussions of closed clerical culture, obedience, professional standards and the like.

Everyone has an opinion on whether celibacy contributes to clergy-perpetrated child sexual abuse: theologians, clergy, journalists, academics, and the victims themselves. Often views on celibacy are a way of leading into a speaker’s politics regarding the church more broadly, and should accordingly be treated with scepticism.

None of this is to say that celibacy doesn’t lead to abuse. Perhaps it does. But our best hope is for the commission’s researchers and experts to go through the leading academic research and the evidence of those who survived abuse, and to come to the most rigorous conclusion possible.

When I put to him that the council would prefer to talk about celibacy than more substantive issues of justice, Sullivan disagreed. It’s not an attempt “to get a conversation going about the dreaded perpetrators and not the systemic problems in the Catholic church”.

If it’s not a strategy, then it’s an oversight – one that will further contribute to the “trust deficit” Sullivan acknowledges is a feature of church life he “fronts every day”. It raises suspicion of celibate clergy in a way that implies causation when the commission itself has not come to that conclusion.

The ultimate purpose of the various inquiries into child abuse will be to inform a post-commission settlement, and the report deals extensively with what the Catholic church’s contribution to that settlement will look like.

Every time the church buys into discussions about the folk devils of celibacy and the seal of the confessional, making them first-order issues before the evidence says they’re first-order issues, the much more important question is obscured. Namely, what financial and legal mechanisms must be established to secure justice for victims?

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

Pedophile Pimp, Cardinal George Pell

The appearances of Cardinal George Pell and others at the commission this year were a disgrace. Catholic clergy continue to be evasive, rude, dishonest and callous in the witness box. Now that Pell has departed for Rome, there is some clear air to talk about justice.

Sullivan’s council is making an effort to engage constructively in this project. But who’s listening? The council has submitted to the inquiry at every stage and on every issue – something state governments and other organisations haven’t done.

Unless we have no faith in the commission’s processes at all, relentless cynicism of the church and Sullivan’s council is increasingly becoming an ungenerous and unproductive stance to take.

What is the church actually putting forward at this stage, beyond the celibacy question? The report proposes that organisations at fault pay into a national redress scheme, with a levy on public liability insurance to compensate victims of organisations that no longer exist. Payments from the scheme would be capped – one of the criticisms of the failed Catholic church victims’ scheme, Towards Healing.

Any cap would take place “in line with community standards”. I would imagine most members of the community would struggle to agree on what the upper limit should be. Determining one will be largely out of the church’s hands anyway.

Is their proposed scheme the best possible option, or is it a second-rate compromise designed to head off a full-blown raid of clergy abuse survivors on the church’s finances? Parishes in the US are already going bankrupt under the weight of child abuse payouts. A state-by-state statutory redefinition of vicarious liability laws, to make the church responsible for clergy abuse even where no negligence has occurred, is the gold standard. This, and a loosening of the statute of limitations for abuse and the like, could be financially disastrous for the church.

Sullivan denies that the church pursues “what might appear to be prima facie a popular policy” at the expense of a more far-reaching response like this.

But it’s hard to avoid the comments of leading Catholic lawyer Fr Frank Brennan, who has raised the spectre of a legal challenge if any future redefinition of vicarious liability goes ahead: “Ultimately, this will be a matter for the High Court, and not for [commissioner] Justice McClellan.”

It’s also hard to discount that Sullivan’s official position on vicarious liability and other associated issues is to “leave it for the courts”. This could amount to a death sentence for any state-by-state statutory scheme if the high court rules conservatively. That would be a waste of large amounts of political capital, effort and goodwill.

In any case, the commission, as the first rigorous state-run inquiry into institutional abuse in the world, has a duty to get it right. Sullivan and his council are under intense scrutiny, but nonetheless have pledged to contribute constructively to the commission’s work.

“[T]he Catholic Church needs to be more proactive, more on the front foot, more unashamedly committed to truth, justice, transparency and compassion, regardless of what the royal commission might recommend,” Brennan wrote after the release of the commission’s interim report.

Perhaps this is the case. But given the commission is a more rigorous and independent body than the church, it would be best to let it rule on the most contentious issues first.

Catholic child abuse analysed

Catholic child abuse analysed

Andrew Brown Blog
Saturday 21 May 2011

From the link:

The John Jay Institute report on the child abuse scandals in the USA has been published. It will surprise and discomfort all sides

The big report of the independent criminologists of the John Jay institute into child abuse in the American Catholic church has now been published. There is something in it to upset everyone. For a start there are many cases of child abuse – and though the report does not go into this – there was a great deal of covering up done. But we knew that. What’s new in the report is the detailed examination of the causes and of the statistics involved.

The pattern that the investigators have to explain is a steep rise in cases of child abuse though the sixties and seventies, followed by a steady decline but a simultaneous rise in reports of earlier incidents in the late Eighties and early Nineties. That, too, has declined towards the present day.

This is an unusual pattern both of reporting and of offending. For comparison I have extracted from the government’s web site the Swedish figures for sex crimes against children under 15 and they show no decline at all since 1991. I’ll come back to those later.

The other notorious and unusual thing about the American Catholic cases is that the great majority of them involved boys – something like 83%. The secular pattern is entirely different.

There are three popular explanations for the figures, depending on your view of the Catholic church: if you are a liberal Christian you are inclined to blame celibacy; if you are a conservative, you blame it all on gays; and if you’re not a Christian at all you just assume they are all rotten, always have been, and still are.

I don’t think this last explanation stands up, for two reasons. The first is that even at its height child abuse was a pretty uncommon crime. The John Jay Institute helpfully compares the number of reported offences with the number of confirmation candidates, to get a rough figure of reported assaults per 100,000. This will tend to overestimate the frequency, because obviously a priest has access to many more children than just confirmation candidates. But it is a consistent measure by which to compare year with year.

So in 1992, when the worst was over, the rate was 15 incidents of reported abuse per 100,000 confirmations. By 2001 it had dropped to of 5 incidents of abuse per 100,000 confirmations in the Catholic Church. There was a similar drop in American society as a whole but less steep and from a consistently higher rate.

For comparison, the Swedish figures for reported sex crimes against all children under 15 was 142/100,000 children in 1992, and 169/100,000 in 2001.

These figures suggest that during the 1990s a child in Sweden, possibly the most secularised country in Europe, was between 10 and 30 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than an American Catholic was by his priest. Even making allowances for the considerable margin of error that must be built into these figures, it’s clear that what went on in US Catholic churches was terrible but rather less terrible than what went on at the same time in many other places where Catholicism was not involved. If the US Catholic church is a hotbed of child rape, Sweden is an awful lot worse. (Just to be clear here, I think the idea that Sweden is a dangerous country for children is entirely absurd.)

I picked Sweden for comparison largely because I know my way round the crime statistics there. But the US government figures quoted in the John Jay report show also that Alaska has a rate of reported child abuse that dwarfs Sweden’s – 788/100,000 in 2001, or 140 times the incidence of reported child abuse in the US Catholic church at the same period. So there is nothing uniquely rotten about the American Catholic church.

The second reason is sociological. The statistics do show a clear and steady decline in reported cases for the last 30 years, even though much of the reporting did not come in until long after the event. If you want to believe that the level of crime has stayed steady while the number of reports has dropped, you would have to come up with some reason why American Catholics (unlike Alaskans or Swedes) would become less likely to report a crime in a period when the social stigma for doing so has almost disappeared and in some cases considerable financial compensation has been on offer.

Which leaves the other two hypotheses. Was it the fault of the gays? The argument in favour is that the victims were overwhelmingly boys and the perpetrators exclusively men. But the John Jay study rejects this, on two grounds. The first, again, is based on the decline in the number of reported incidents. That coincides with what most people agree has been an increase in the number of gay men in the priesthood. So if gay priests were the problem, you would expect the figure for reported assaults to rise, as they did in Sweden and Alaska. This hasn’t happened.

Nor is it the case that men who had had sex with other men before training for the priesthood abused boys in any greater numbers than men who had had sex with women before.

“Priests with pre-ordination same-sex sexual behaviour were significantly more likely to participate in post-ordination sexual behaviour, but these priests were more likely to participate in sexual behaviour with adults than minors. Same-sex sexual behaviour prior to ordination did not significantly predict the sexual abuse of minors.”

But gay priests of this sort, if they did abuse, showed a marked preference for male victims.

So perhaps it was celibacy, after all. The trouble with this theory is the same decline in incidence of abuse as was noted before. That was not accompanied by any relaxation in the celibacy rules. It’s possible that the discipline of celibacy has simply collapsed in the USA. But the report doesn’t suggest this; nor, for that matter does anecdotal (or any other) evidence.

Which leaves the “Woodstock” hypothesis: that it was all the consequence of rapid social change. The combined impact of the sexual revolution outside the Church, and of the Vatican II reforms inside simply broke down the traditional self-discipline of the priesthood along with much of its traditional authority. This is the hypothesis that the report itself favours. But there is a subtlety with this view: if it were only the morals of the surrounding society which made a difference, then – again – the incidence of abuse would hardly have gone down. American society is not more sexually puritanical now than it was in 1975. So, the report argues, it was the impact of the sexual revolution on men who had not been trained to withstand it which was the decisive factor.

Two controversies remain. The first is the report’s definition of “paedophile” as someone who only has sex with children under 10. By this definition, less than one in twenty of abusing priests were paedophiles. But it’s clear from the figures that there were a lot of abusing priests who did not much care whether their victims were pre-pubescent or not. Nearly one in three of the multiple offenders had at least one victim who was 12 or younger as well as one who was older than 15.

The second is the response of the authorities. This has been historically feeble and sometimes much worse. But that’s a subject for another post.

John Paul II Gets A Second Look In Abuse Scandal

John Paul II Gets A Second Look In Abuse Scandal

April 09, 2010 3:00 PM ET
n this Nov. 30, 2004, file photo, Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to Marcial Maciel Degollado of Mexico, founder of the Legion of Christ. Allegations have surfaced that the late pope — or at least members of his inner circle — obstructed an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Maciel. Plinio Lepri/AP

n this Nov. 30, 2004, file photo, Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to Marcial Maciel Degollado of Mexico, founder of the Legion of Christ. Allegations have surfaced that the late pope — or at least members of his inner circle — obstructed an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Maciel.
Plinio Lepri/AP

As the Roman Catholic Church tries to defend Pope Benedict XVI from criticism over his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal, the record of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, is also getting attention. New questions are being raised about whether the most popular pope of the last century played a role in covering up cases of sex abuse.

When John Paul died five years ago, millions of faithful poured into Rome for his funeral, chanting, “Santo subito” or “Make him a saint now.” Just two months later, Benedict XVI waived the usual five-year waiting period and put the Polish-born pope on the fast track to sainthood.

But in recent weeks, allegations have surfaced that the late pope — or at least members of his inner circle — obstructed an investigation into Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ who had both molested young boys and fathered several children with different women.

“It is clear now that during the ’80s or ’90s, there were important cases — for instance, the abuse case of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ — which were shelved in the Vatican, which were hushed up,” says veteran Vatican watcher Marco Politi.

‘Stronger Forces Within The Vatican’

Politi says John Paul’s longtime associate, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now the current pope, wanted to investigate Maciel.

“Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, was pushing in order to open a proceeding against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, but there were stronger forces within the Vatican who stopped him,” Politi says.

In 2006, now-Pope Benedict was finally able to banish Maciel. A long investigative report in the last issue of the National Catholic Reporter revealed that Maciel sent streams of money to the Vatican to buy support for his order.

The Italian weekly L’espresso estimates the Legion’s assets at more than $30 billion.

Paying The Price

Equally serious allegations concern the case of the late Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, accused of abusing an estimated 2,000 boys over decades. His successor, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, has criticized the Vatican’s handling of that scandal when it emerged in 1995.

Schoenborn said officials close to Pope John Paul blocked an investigative commission. Schoenborn even revealed that then-Cardinal Ratzinger confided sadly, “The other party has prevailed.”

Vatican expert Sandro Magister says the Catholic Church is paying the price for its past sins.

“For a certain period, from the ’60s to the ’90s, in the U.S. as well as in Europe, there was a climate of sexual permissiveness, in which the gravity of sex abuse of minors was underestimated, and when priests were involved, even bishops looked the other way,” Magister says. “It’s not fair to pin the blame on John Paul II.”

A Church Beseiged?

Robert Mickens, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic weekly, The Tablet, says that within the priesthood, there is a certain mistrust of the secular world. And the Polish pope, who grew up under totalitarian regimes, often saw the church besieged by the outside world, Mickens says.

“Those who wear the Roman collar, those who are part of all this, believe that they are maligned unfairly,” Mickens says. “John Paul II may have felt that this was again this onslaught of the Nazis or the communists, but now secularists, secularism, to discredit the church. If you look at what some people have been saying in the Vatican, that kind of paranoia has not gone away at all.”

In a letter written in 2001, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, under John Paul’s auspices, ordered all clerical sex abuse cases be sent to his department and that all cases be subject to pontifical secrecy. His No. 2 at the time, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said in a 2002 interview, “It seems to me there is no basis for demanding that a bishop be obliged to turn to civil magistrates and denounce a priest who has confided to him to have committed the crime of pedophilia.”

As the Vatican and the pope face threats of lawsuits and even criminal proceedings in some countries, Vatican officials are now insisting that the Holy See has always recommended to its bishops that they report abusive priests to the police.

Belgian Catholic bishop admits molesting boy

Belgian Catholic bishop admits molesting boy

Roger Vanheluwe, the bishop of Bruges, says he begged for victim’s forgiveness as Vatican confirms his resignation

From the link:

Roger Vangheluwe, bishop of Bruges, pictured in November 2006. Photograph: Reuters REUTERS

Roger Vangheluwe, bishop of Bruges, pictured in November 2006. Photograph: Reuters REUTERS

A Belgian bishop has confessed to molesting a boy, becoming the first high-ranking prelate to be directly implicated in child sex abuse since the outbreak of the global scandal enveloping the Roman Catholic church.

Shortly after the Vatican announced that the pope had accepted his resignation , Roger Vangheluwe, the bishop of the Flemish city of Bruges, said that before he took over his diocese “and for a short time afterwards, I sexually abused a young boy close to me”.

In a letter read to a press conference, the 73-year-old prelate, who was not present, said what he had done more than 25 years ago “marked the victim forever”.

“The wound does not heal. Neither for me, nor for the victim,” he said.

Vangheluwe, who was consecrated a bishop in 1985, said he had several times begged for the forgiveness of the victim and his family – apparently to no avail.

His voice shaking with emotion, the head of the Belgian church and archbishop of Brussels, André-Joseph Léonard, acknowledged that the affair would have a painful effect on Belgian Catholics. “We are aware of the crisis of confidence that this is going to engender in a number of people,” he said.

Vangheluwe’s departure shattered the hopes of Vatican officials that the scandal could at last be contained. The affair had seemed to reach a turning point last weekend when, on a visit to Malta, Pope Benedict held a tearful meeting of reconciliation with abuse victims.

On Thursday, in an apparent confirmation of the Vatican’s new hard line, he accepted the resignation of James Moriarty, the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in Ireland, who was accused in an official report of hushing up abuse cases. But yesterday the pope’s own past record was again called into question.

One of his cardinals said that before his election to the papacy, the pope had attended a meeting at which it was agreed to praise a French bishop for shielding a priest convicted of raping minors. In an interview in his native Colombia, Dario Castrillón Hoyos, who headed the Vatican department that deals with the clergy, said that a letter he wrote to the French bishop in 2001 was the product of a meeting in the Vatican.

“It was a meeting of cardinals. Therefore the current pope, who at that time was a cardinal, was present,” he said.

After the letter came to light, Castrillón said the last pope, John Paul II, had approved it and recommended that it be circulated – as it was – to all Catholic bishops. “The law in nations with a well-developed judiciary does not force anyone to testify against a child, a father, against other people close to the suspect,” Castrillón told his interviewer. “Why would they ask that of the church?”

His view was at odds with Vatican guidelines published last week, which make clear that bishops are expected to report clerical sex abuse to the authorities if required to do so by law. Church officials say the guidelines have been in force since 2003 – two years after John Paul II ordered that all such cases should be handled by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, the department headed by his successor, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In a series of legal actions concerning abuse that dates from before then, the Vatican’s representatives have argued that the responsibility lies solely with the relevant diocese. But a new suit filed in the United States seeks for the first time to pin the blame on the Vatican, claiming that it exercises “unqualified power” over the Catholic church down to the level of its parishes.

The suit was filed on Thursday by Jeff Anderson, an attorney in St Paul, Minnesota. He argues that top officials in the Vatican, including Ratzinger, knew about claims of sex abuse at a school for deaf children near Milwaukee, and that they blocked the punishment of the accused priest, Lawrence Murphy.

Murphy, who died in 1998, is accused of molesting up to 200 boys between 1950 and 1974. The defendants in the lawsuit are the pope, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was his deputy at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith and is now his top official, and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Bertone’s predecessor.

Belgian child abuse report exposes Catholic clergy

Belgian child abuse report exposes Catholic clergy

Paedophilia expert unveils harrowing testimony and documents cases in almost every diocese.