Ex-Priest Accused of Being 'Predator'
By Katie Urbaszewski
November 18, 2012
Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux officials have said they had not heard reports of any predatory behavior by a former priest before a man came forward, accusing the priest of molesting him as an altar boy.
However, people who claim to have had sexual relationships with the Rev. Etienne LeBlanc said they felt preyed on by an authority figure who took advantage of them, even if they were not victims in the eyes of criminal law.
A civil suit against LeBlanc and the diocese, filed by Morgan City native Jared Ribardi, was settled last month, and LeBlanc, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has never been arrested under any criminal charges.
The alleged encounters happened at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Morgan City, which is part of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux. LeBlanc has also worked at Annunziata Catholic Church in Houma and is now retired.
Louis Aguirre, spokesman for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, wrote a letter to The Courier and Daily Comet after the settlement, which was not disclosed.
The diocese “has not ever known of any alleged ‘predatory behavior’ by Father LeBlanc,” Aguirre wrote, referring to Ribardi’s attorney’s allegations that the diocese knew about his predatory sexual behavior for 25 years.
Aguirre could not be reached for comment at the time the attorney, Roger Stetter, made that statement.
Natchitoches resident Clayton Delery, 55, said he disagreed with that statement when he read it.
Delery said when he was 17 he met LeBlanc at Teens Encounter Christ, a retreat for high school students in Reserve. They became friends, and Delery would sometimes visit LeBlanc at his rectory in Reserve, where they had sex, Delery said.
He did not tell anyone this until 1993 when he wrote a letter to the Archdiocese of New Orleans about their brief relationship in the ’70s.
He chose to write to church officials because of “a wave of stories” in the ’90s about allegations against Catholic priests of sexual molestation.
Because Delery was 17, LeBlanc’s alleged relationship with him is not against Louisiana law. State civil code defines “criminal sexual activity” as occurring against people 17 or younger.
“For the first time, I thought maybe this wasn’t just something that happened between Father LeBlanc and me. Maybe this is part of a pattern,” Delery said.
Also, in 1989, Delery said he became a teacher at a high school, which affected the way he thought about authority figures taking advantage of young people.
“I remember becoming aware, you know, if I were to ever have sexual relations with a student, I’d be fired on the spot, and the school would be right to do it,” he said.
Less than a month after writing the letter, Delery received a response from the Rev. Michael Jarrell, the former bishop of Houma-Thibodaux.
“Father Etienne did receive psychiatric counseling while on sabbatical during the school year 1986-87,” Jarrell wrote. “Upon recommendation of his doctor, he was returned to parish work in May of 1987. For six years he has served successfully in his parish assignment. In that time there have been no complaints about his behavior. ... I am satisfied that whatever problems he may have had have been faced and overcome. He is continuing to receive counseling on a regular basis. If he were a threat to anyone, I feel that there would have been complaints.”
In his letter, Jarrell does not acknowledge why LeBlanc began to receive counseling.
The alleged sexual encounters between LeBlanc and Ribardi, which include accusations that LeBlanc forced Ribardi to perform oral sex, happened in the early 1990s when Ribardi was as young as 9 and as old as 14, according to his civil petition.
“I felt very ambivalent about (the letter),” Delery said, “because I felt that at least they were addressing my concerns. On the other hand, it seemed kind of dismissive.”
Delery said he felt that Jarrell was saying, “We’ve got our eyes on him. You don’t need to worry.”
Although what Delery alleges about LeBlanc’s past relationship with him was not criminal, Delery said he felt like a victim.
“There was still a huge age difference and a huge power difference,” Delery said. “He was the authority figure. He was the one who was supposed to be supplying guidance.”
OTHERS HAVE SPOKEN UP
Two former Nicholls State University students have alleged past sexual relationships with LeBlanc when he was pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Thibodaux, Stetter said.
Both have since died, one from suicide and the other from AIDS.
Stetter alleged that LeBlanc sexually assaulted Timmy Folse in 1989. Folse’s friends and relatives said he told them about LeBlanc’s alleged behavior. Folse considered LeBlanc a friend and had sought counseling from him, they said.
Folse never reported the alleged misdeeds to church officials. His widow, Jane G. Folse, said he was convinced that if he did, the complaint would go nowhere.
But a friend, Michael White, said he told his former high-school religion teacher of the alleged misconduct. The teacher recalled telling White that he should go to higher-ups in the church. She said she notified a nun years later.
The second student died of AIDS in 1992, but his family requested that his name not be printed in The Courier or Daily Comet.
His first cousin said she was going to testify at Ribardi’s trial. The woman, who asked to be unnamed because her identity would reveal her cousin’s, said he confessed on his deathbed to her that he had a sexual relationship with a priest while he was a college student.
“Later in life, it disturbed him greatly. ... As he was dying, he displayed anger toward the Catholic Church and would not accept the sacraments,” or Last Rites, she said.
“(LeBlanc) made him lose the thing he’d loved the most in life,” his Catholicism, she said. “It was hypocrisy. ... (LeBlanc) is supposed to be celibate, and it’s no different for a heterosexual. I hold them to the same level.”
His cousin said what he told her did not damage her opinion of the Catholic Church.
“I don’t want to hurt my church,” she said. “We just want them to understand, what’s wrong is wrong.”
DIOCESE RESPONDS TO ALLEGATIONS
Aguirre declined to respond to these individuals’ assertion that LeBlanc’s alleged behavior toward them was “predatory.”
Aguirre also declined to outline the diocese’s specific policies when allegations of sexual misconduct are brought forward.
“The diocesan policy is to investigate the matter thoroughly and to take appropriate action to serve the best interests of all parties,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre also pointed out that Ribardi’s claims were not proven in court.
Stetter said he encouraged Ribardi to settle.
“I had one client who jumped off a bridge. ... It’s extremely stressful to go through this litigation, so we encourage our clients, if it’s a good settlement, to take it,” Stetter said.