EX-BR Priest Admits to Abuse

By Joe Gyan
August 2, 2010

A former Baton Rouge area priest accused in lawsuits of molesting altar boys acknowledged in writing last year that he sexually abused boys and was himself molested by a priest as a youngster.

Christopher Springer also wrote in the March 13, 2009, affidavit that then-Bishop Stanley Joseph Ott, of the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, met with him in late 1984 and recommended he go to a church-run treatment center in Florida for troubled priests.

“I assumed at the time that Bishop Ott knew that I was sexually abusing boys,’’ Springer stated in the affidavit he signed in St. Tammany Parish.

Springer, 84, said in the document he is “telling the truth and I want my conscious to be clear.’’

The Advocate obtained the affidavit from Houston lawyer Felecia Peavy, who represents 19 former altar boys who claim Springer sexually abused them in the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge.

Through a diocesan spokesman, diocese attorney Charles Cusimano said he could not discuss the Springer case publicly because the lawsuits filed by the former altar boys represented by Peavy are sealed.

Cusimano called Peavy’s release of the affidavit “unethical and unprofessional.’’

Peavy countered that the affidavit, which Springer gave her, is not part of the record governed by the protective order.

“This is my file, my work product,’’ she stressed.

Former altar boys have claimed they were abused by Springer while he was working as a Redemptorist or diocesan priest at St. Gerard Majella and St. Pius X, both in Baton Rouge; St. Mary’s of False River; Pointe Coupee Church; Our Lady of the Assumption, Clinton; Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Slidell; and St. Alphonsus Parish, New Orleans.

“I’m at a loss for words,’’ Charles Bishop, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, said last week when contacted at his Florida home about the Springer affidavit.

“It’s really hard. It was really emotional hearing that he confessed,’’ said an “emotionally exhausted’’ Bishop, whose suit was filed in the fall of 2006 and is still pending in state district court in Baton Rouge.

Springer, a New Orleans native, was ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1952 in Wisconsin, according to his affidavit. Prior to that as a seminarian in Missouri, Springer wrote, he was molested by a Redemptorist priest who was his Latin teacher. He said the abuse began when he was 12 or 13.

After taking a leave of absence and ultimately getting a dispensation from the Redemptorists, Springer said he called the Diocese of Baton Rouge and spoke with Bishop Robert Emmet Tracy about joining the diocese. Tracy accepted him, Springer said in the affidavit.

Tracy was bishop from 1961 to 1974. He died in 1980.

Peavy said Springer came to Baton Rouge in 1973.

“At the end of 1984, Bishop Ott called me in for a meeting and spoke about a priest in Lafayette,’’ Springer’s affidavit says.

Peavy said Ott was referring to former Catholic priest Gilbert Gauthe, who pleaded guilty in 1985 to sexually abusing 11 boys in Louisiana. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison but released after serving 10 years.

“The priest scandal over in Lafayette was the motive for them … to hide the secrets about what they knew about Springer,’’ Peavy said.

The former altar boys contend the Baton Rouge diocese knew or should have been aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

The lawsuits allege the diocese moved Springer to other churches, where the abuse continued.

Church officials have said the diocese was unaware of the accusations against Springer until 1985 and quickly dismissed him from the diocese after learning of the allegations.

Peavy insists Springer, like Gauthe, should have been prosecuted.

Springer said in his affidavit that Ott wanted him to go to the House of Affirmation in Clearwater, Fla.

“The Diocese was going to cover all of the expenses for the House of Affirmation. Bishop Ott stressed that I could get help,’’ Springer’s affidavit says.

“Bishop Ott never spoke directly about the problem with children, but I understood the reference about the priest in Lafayette and what Bishop Ott was telling me about going to the House of Affirmation.’’

Ott served as bishop from 1983 until his death in 1992.

The Baton Rouge diocese has settled lawsuits filed by nine of the men Peavy represents, she has said.

In all, Peavy represents more than 30 alleged victims of Springer’s alleged sexual abuse. The alleged abuse occurred between 1968 and 1980.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has said Springer resides at a retirement community in Pearl River.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.