Lawsuit against Local Diocese, Priest Settled
By Katie Urbaszewski
October 25, 2012
A lawsuit that accuses a former Houma priest of molesting a child and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux of protecting him has been settled, the accuser's attorney said.
The now-retired Rev. Etienne LeBlanc was interviewed by attorneys last month, and both sides began to work toward a settlement after the interviews were completed, said the accuser's attorney Roger Stetter.
“There was very damning evidence that he had abused many other people,” Stetter said, declining to detail the exact evidence. Stetter's deposition is not in the case file.
Neither the attorney representing the diocese nor the attorney representing LeBlanc could be reached late Wednesday.
In 2007, Jared Ribardi, now an adult, filed suit in Terrebonne Parish accusing LeBlanc of forcing him to perform oral sex on him and of other sexual encounters when Ribardi was age 9 until he was 14 in the early 1990s. The encounters stopped when Ribardi left the church where LeBlanc worked at the time, Holy Cross Catholic Church in Morgan City, the suit says. He has since worked at Annunziata Catholic Church in Houma.
Holy Cross is part of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.
After the allegations were made, LeBlanc — in accordance with diocesan procedure — began to receive counseling and evaluation.
Stetter declined to say how much attorneys agreed to pay Ribardi.
“It was a decent settlement,” he said. “It wasn't billions, but it was a good settlement.”
The Courier and the Daily Comet do not normally identify alleged victims of sex crimes, but Ribardi has requested in past interviews that his name be made public.
Ribardi filed the lawsuit to assure that what allegedly happened to him will not be repeated, he told The Courier and Daily Comet in a prior interview.
"The biggest reason is that he doesn't do that again," he said.
Ribardi has spent time in prison after pleading guilty to indecent behavior with a juvenile, records show.
In the past, Ribardi has said that charge stemmed from a false accusation that arose from a failed relationship with an ex-girlfriend. That woman's daughter is the alleged victim.
He and his attorney said because he could not afford legal counsel at that time, accepting an offered plea deal seemed the best option.
LeBlanc has not been charged with any sex crimes, Stetter said. The Morgan City Police Department has investigated Ribardi's complaint, also filed in 2007, but police have not pursued any charges.
LeBlanc lives in Westwego, Stetter said. LeBlanc could not be reached for comment.
As a result of the settlement, the case's Dec. 4 trial date has been canceled, Stetter said. Attorneys settled Oct. 9, and once the settlement is paid, they will file a formal motion to remove the case from Judge Timothy Ellender's calendar.
Staff Writer Katie Urbaszewski can be reached at 448-7617 or firstname.lastname@example.org