Houma Diocese Call for Cooperation with Authorities

The Times-Picayune [Houma LA]
October 31, 2003

HOUMA, La. (AP) A new policy for dealing with sexual-abuse allegations within the Catholic Church's Diocese of Houma Thibodaux calls for unprecedented openness and cooperation with authorities, a spokesman says.

Bishop Sam G. Jacobs ordered a week ago that the new policy, modeled closely on principles adopted by U.S. Roman Catholic bishops last year, take immediate effect.

The policy eliminates the long-standing practice of confidentiality agreements between the diocese and complainants, except in those cases where victims or parents request them and even then only under restricted circumstance.

The policy also calls for the naming of a coordinator to help with spirtual care of any victims, an independent review board to review actions by the diocese and reporting allegations to police.

"The policy will be published in booklet form and given to all clergy, seminarians, religious, lay employees and volunteer workers" diocese spokesman Louis Aguirre said.

The policy appears to address a concern raised by Terrebonne Parish District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr., who said last year that merely looking at legal requirements is not enough.

"We must ask ourselves what is required morally," Waitz said.

The diocese under former Bishop Michael Jarrell began scrutinizing its policy last year, when worldwide attention was focused on scandals in Boston and other cities across the United States.

The local diocese had a high profile case in 1996 involving Robert Lester Melancon, who once served at Annunziata Catholic Church in Houma. A former altar boy brought the complaint as an adult, resulting in Melancon's conviction on a charge of aggravated rape. He is now serving a life prison sentence.

Melancon maintains his innocence.

Information from: Houma Daily Courier


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