Category Archives: Father Gilbert Gauthe molested at least 100 boys in his years as a priest

Molestation Case Haunts Church, Victim


Molestation Case Haunts Church, Victim

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
December 5, 1999

It happened in a blink. One Sunday in the autumn of 1994, the Rev. Patrick Keane was celebrating Mass as usual as associate pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Metairie; a week later, he was gone. Nobody knew why.

What happened, court documents and interviews show, was that in the intervening days Keane had admitted to superiors that a tale just brought to them was true: that in 1980 or 1981 the associate pastor had molested a 15- or 16-year-old high school student in the rectory of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Metairie.

Keane’s confession suddenly forced officials at the Archdiocese of New Orleans into a series of decisions: What to do with Keane? How much to disclose to people with whom he had worked? How to find other potential victims?

The archdiocese’s decisions would have to balance what to reveal vs. what to keep quiet.

Those decisions also would define the church’s response to Patrick Collins, a Jefferson Parish man who had brought the accusations against Keane, and who at that moment was both a victim and, in the church’s eyes, a potential threat.

How the church resolves such cases in Louisiana and elsewhere has been a source of controversy for 15 years, beginning with its handling of the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, the Lafayette priest who was transferred from parish to parish while he molested dozens of children before his conviction and 10-year imprisonment in 1985.

Since then, and with mixed success, the church’s 194 largely autonomous dioceses nationwide have struggled to develop procedures for dealing with such priestly misconduct .

Court records in the Keane case and supporting interviews provide an unusually vivid picture of how the church in New Orleans responded when faced with one such allegation.

Its circumstances are clear-cut: Keane’s admission meant church authorities did not have to sort through differing versions of events, and court records on the case are unusually detailed. The most compelling part of that record is Keane’s sworn deposition, made available by Collins’ attorney, Harry Widmann.

The record shows how the church handled the case in several key areas:

• Its treatment of Keane, which was swift but also notably compassionate.

• Its treatment of Collins, which his attorney says was brusque and so cold that he has never received an apology — a charge an archdiocesan spokesman could not directly address.

• Its treatment of the families Keane served in five earlier New Orleans-area assignments. They were never told of his misconduct or of the possibility, raised recently by Widmann’s investigation, that Keane had molested other children. The issue is pertinent because many observers in and out of the church recommend disclosure as a convincing sign to victims in hiding that it is safe to step forward.

All are sensitive decisions, made case by case.

For example, four years after the Keane case came to their attention, church authorities in New Orleans were faced with a parent’s accusation that Norco grammar school teacher and coach Brian Matherne had molested his son. This time, the secondhand nature of the allegation, Matherne’s denial and the coach’s good record convinced church officials they could not prudently suspend him.

Matherne was later arrested and charged with more than 400 counts of sexually abusing juveniles, charges he has denied. His case, however, has prompted the archdiocese to review its 1993 policy for handling complaints of sexual abuse.

And in another case, the archdiocese has elected to quietly stand behind the Rev. Michael Fraser, who was accused in a St. Tammany Parish civil lawsuit last year of molesting a parishioner, Robert Johnson, then 17, in the rectory of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River in 1991.

Fraser has denied the allegation and remains a priest in good standing at Visitation Parish in Marrero, where he was transferred before the lawsuit was filed.

••• Keane admits molesting Collins •••

Five years after the archdiocese learned of the case involving Keane, the archdiocese and Collins are still dealing with its ramifications.

Three weeks ago, an attempt to settle Collins’ lawsuit out of court broke down. A new round of pretrial depositions will soon be scheduled, Widmann said.

Keane’s story is already on record.

On July 27, Widmann took Keane’s deposition under oath in a hotel room in New York, where Keane testified that he molested Collins, but no one else.

He testified that from St. Catherine’s he agreed to an immediate transfer to Villa St. John Vianney, a church-run treatment center for sexual disorders in Downington, Pa., where he said he was diagnosed as having “a sexual addiction.”

He said he now works as a flight attendant and purser for Tower Air Inc., a New York airline company. He is no longer a priest. He said he still regularly sees a counselor in Manhattan as part of his treatment.

Meanwhile, Collins, now married and a new father, still sees a church-paid counselor, Widmann said.

Four months after he told the archdiocese what occurred with Keane, Collins filed suit. His life was rapidly deteriorating, Widmann said. His engagement broke up. In July 1995 he attempted suicide and was hospitalized for a month at DePaul Hospital, Widmann said. He also has rejected the Catholicism of his youth.

Widmann said Collins did not want to be interviewed.

••• Encounter reopens wounds •••

From the archdiocese’s perspective, the Keane story began in November 1994, when Collins and a cousin met with Monsignor Ray Hebert and told him what Keane had done to Collins years earlier.

By that time, Keane had been in the archdiocese for the better part of 20 years, with no hint of sexual misconduct on his record, said Sharon Rodi, a New Orleans attorney the archdiocese appointed as spokeswoman in the Keane case.

He had served earlier assignments at St. Edward the Confessor in Metairie, at St. Cecilia in New Orleans and Mary Magdalen, where Collins, a teen-ager, had been given a clerical job in the rectory because he was interested in the priesthood.

After leaving Mary Magdalen, Keane was promoted to pastor of Holy Family Parish in Luling and briefly served at St. Anselm Parish in Madisoieve a preference for disclosure not only rebuilds trust in the church but also is the most effective way to coax other victims into coming forward.

A preference for disclosure “sends a message that the archdiocese is trying to deal with these things responsibly, that we’re not trying to sweep this thing under the rug,” said the Rev. Thomas Paprocki, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

••• Disclosure level varies •••

In Chicago, when archdiocesan officials believe it prudent to suspend temporarily an employee accused of sexual misconduct, the archdiocese always informs local lay leaders in the affected parish and asks their advice on the need for more disclosure, Paprocki said..

“Our victim-assistance minister makes clear to us that sharing that information with people is the way to help set the stage for others who may have been victims to come forward,” Paprocki said.

Openness sometimes pays unexpected legal dividends in that victims who come forward and feel they are treated fairly sometimes elect not to sue, he said.

Some critics, particularly among plaintiffs’ attorneys, have long argued that a church policy of silence is crafted by defense attorneys urging their client-bishops to do as little as possible so as to protect church assets from litigation.

“They are one-trick ponies,” Widmann said. “And their one trick is how to cover up this mess. They do it over and over again.”

“I can tell you in the conversation I had about this, (cover-up) never came up” in the Keane case, Rodi said. “And I do believe the archdiocese is sincerely concerned about incidents like this. And they’re concerned about everybody involved.”

In practice, disclosing that an employee has been temporarily removed from ministry while a sex abuse investigation unwinds does not invite an avalanche of bogus lawsuits, Paprocki said.

Partly that is because fraudulently claiming to have been molested involves greater personal risk than, say, bringing a trumped-up “slip and fall” lawsuit, said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests.

“In sexual matters, there’s still a great deal of shame attached and a great deal of risk associated with coming forward,” he said.

Moreover, Paprocki said, “sometimes it’s the lawyers telling you, ‘You have to act like a church here'” and be open and honest.

••• Victim feels slighted •••

Shortly after his meeting with Schulte, Keane quietly left for the treatment center, his care paid for by the archdiocese, Rodi said.

It later gave him financial assistance to help him get settled after his discharge in mid-1995, she said.

Collins, meanwhile, knew nothing of these developments, Widmann said.

After a follow-up meeting with Hebert, in which Hebert told him Keane had admitted the truth and the church would pay for his therapy, Collins felt that Hebert “could not wait to get him out of the room,” Widmann said.

Collins never learned what happened to Keane and never received any follow-up queries about his own well-being, Widmann said.

“He feels like they told him simply to send in the therapy bills,” leaving Collins with the impression that the church would decide unilaterally how long it would help him, Widmann said.

“The church’s approach is very, very legalistic. Dealing with them is like dealing with an insurance adjuster — very detached, very cold. It’s strictly a dollars and cents approach,” he said.

“When Patrick left that meeting was when he began to get really outraged,” Widmann said. “My reading is he had no thought of getting a lawyer until that point.”

In general, Rodi said, she could not say whether it was true, as Collins claimed, that no one at the archdiocese ever apologized to him or that they treated him with the aloofness he alleges in his suit.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” she said.

Whatever the truth of Collins’ description, critics of church policy say that experience is still common.

“Ironically, people who come forward with complaints are sometimes treated like pariahs, when in fact we’re trying to do the church a huge favor in trying to cleanse it of these abusers,” Clohessy said.

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: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/1985_05_30_Berry_TheTragedy.htm

{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: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/1985_05_23_Berry_TheTragedy.htm

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.

Revelations

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: http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news/1986_01_30_Berry_AnatomyOf.htm

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?