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  Police Officer Testifies to Being Raped by Priest

By Paula Tracy
The Union Leader [Laconia NH]
Downloaded April 16, 2003

The Rev. George Robichaud, 58, of Sanbornton, waits in Belknap County Superior Court in Laconia for his trial to begin Tuesday. Robichaud is accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in his lakeside cabin in 1985. (AP)

LACONIA - A former altar boy who is now a New Hampshire police officer testified in Belknap County Superior Court yesterday about how he was befriended by his Catholic priest, taken on trips, groped, then raped in the summer of 1985.

But a defense attorney for the Rev. George H. Robichaud, 58, of Sanbornton, told the jury the case hangs on whether the 33-year-old alleged victim was younger than 16 when the incident occurred. If he was 16 or older, the age of consent, it would not be considered a crime under state law.

And he also noted his client did not admit to sexual penetration in a secretly taped meeting the two had last spring, which was approved by former Attorney General Phillip T. McLaughlin.

Concord attorney Peter G. Callaghan said there is no physical evidence in the case, only the words of a man who is not sure whether the events occurred prior to his 16th birthday.

The officer secretly taped a conversation last spring, in which Robichaud allegedly apologizes for inappropriate sexual contact. The jury is expected to hear the tape today when the trial resumes.

The victim said he feels confident that Robichaud sexually penetrated him while he pretended to sleep in 1985, when he was alone as a guest at Robichaud's cottage on the shores of Lake Winnisquam.

He said he believes that because his life became busier after that time with sports, school, jobs and friends, that it was unlikely he would have been able to have gone with "Father George" on an overnight trip.

As the scandal involving the Catholic Church boiled over last year, the buried thoughts of the assault resurfaced, he said, and he felt it was his duty as a police officer, father and citizen to come forward with the allegations.

It is this newspaper's policy not to reveal the names of victims of sexual assault.

Recently, another police officer, State Police Sgt. Phil Jepson announced that he was molested by a teacher at Bishop Guertin High School in the 1980s. The teacher denied the accusations.

Robichaud, of 284 Black Brook Road, Sanbornton, has pleaded innocent to one count of felonious sexual assault and one count of attempted aggravated felonious sexual assault in the case.

A second and separate set of indictments were handed down in January, alleging raped another altar boy from Laconia between June 1 and Oct. 28, 1982, at the cottage.

Robichaud has denied those charges, as well as those in a civil case alleging between 20 and 30 assaults.

Robichaud has been a priest at St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church in Wolfeboro and St. Joan of Arc parish in Alton, but the charges that are now going forward stem from his time at St. Anthony and St. Stephen churches in Swanzey during the 1980s.

Robichaud is now on administrative leave.

Belknap County Attorney Lauren Noether, in opening statements, said Robichaud "broke a sacred trust" and that he knowingly used his authority to coerce the boy to submit.

Callaghan said his client enjoys the presumption of innocence and the state has the burden of overcoming that presumption beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the first day of what is expected to be a five-day trial, the primary witness took the stand but was not cross-examined.

Born in the Keene area and adopted by a local family as an infant, he said his mother was a devout Catholic and his father was an alcoholic who rarely went to church.

His mother encouraged his relationship with Robichaud, which began as visits to the rectory after Mass when he was 13 and 14, and included lobster dinners and occasional trips to the cottage on Lake Winnisquam.

Not only was Robichaud a church leader and role model, he became a sort of surrogate father who showered affection on him, something he admits he was starved for as a boy. He recalled only once getting a hug from his father in those years.

"I'd get hugs from him (Robichaud) where I wasn't getting them from my dad. It felt nice," he said, wiping away a tear.

There was a noticeable change in the relationship when he was 14 and was asked by Robichaud to lie on his bed at the rectory. It was there, while a nun was in the room next door watching television, that he said Robichaud lay on top of him, fully clothed, and kissed him and moved his hands and hips about the boy's body.

"I was a little scared. I just wanted it to be over," he said.

Asked by Noether why he didn't tell anyone he said, "There was nobody really to tell," he said.

His mother, who worked on the books at the church, encouraged the relationship.

The alleged victim said his family was fairly poor and Robichaud offered him experiences he could not get from his family. He said the priest let him drive his Jeep before he had a license, allowed him to drink at the cottage and he learned to drive his power boat.

In the fall of 1984, Robichaud even offered him an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy and he said that during the trip, when they had adjoining rooms at a convent outside the Vatican, Robichaud entered his bedroom and groped him in his boxer shorts and kissed him.

But the two never spoke of the incident and he did not sever his relationship with either Robichaud or the church for some time because he felt welcome and appreciated.

During the summer of 1985, he believes, Robichaud sexually penetrated him while he was dozing on the couch at the house in Sanbornton at night.

He described the priest as being "slow, sneaky, trying not to wake me up," but that he knows what he experienced, though the two never spoke of that incident until last year.

"Am I absolutely, 100 percent sure I was 15? No," he said

 
 

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