Former Lafayette Lawyer Rises from the Ashes of the Gilbert Gauthe Case
By Evan Moore
September 29, 2013
|Ray Mouton, former defense attorney for Gilbert Gauthe and cuurently an author, stands near his home by the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France.|
On clear mornings he can see the steeple.
It rises from a little russet-stone Catholic church in the village in southern France where Ray Mouton, former Louisiana lawyer-turned-expatriate-American author, now lives.
The view from Mouton’s terrace focuses squarely on that steeple as it cuts a vertical line through the horizon, reaching heavenward against a backdrop of the Pyrenees Mountains, a symbol of solace, hope and inspiration to man.
But not to Mouton.
Mouton has never been to Mass in that church. He has never heard a sermon there.
Mouton no longer attends church services. Not since the case of Father Gilbert Gauthe, whose horrific crimes against children in the Diocese of Lafayette set off a wave of scandal in 1985 that reached from southern Louisiana throughout the nation. Not since that wave rolled across the ocean to Europe, all the way to the Vatican.
Not since Mouton defended Gauthe and almost ruined his life in the process.
Now, he only enters churches to light candles, candles for the children.
Ray Mouton’s tale is that of a man who had everything and lost it, a man who hit rock bottom, then found a way back. Once a lawyer, then a wanderer who watched his home, his family and his law practice fade away in an alcoholic haze, Mouton is now an author, a man who reinvented himself.
It’s also the story of Gilbert Gauthe, a pedophile priest, an unassuming, obsequious man whose monstrous crimes in south Louisiana set off a world-wide avalanche of scandal in1985 that continues to rock the Catholic Church today.
And, it is the story of a novel, “In God’s House,” Mouton’s latest, a work of fiction that mirrors reality so closely that Gauthe almost leers from its pages.
Mouton has lived his 66 years with a fine madness.
He jumps from first to fifth gear. Ask for the time and he builds you a watch. Ask where he is from and expect a discourse on the history, food and culture of South Louisiana.
He grew up wealthy, the scion of an historically prominent, staunchly Catholic, Acadiana family. The Moutons began their Louisiana heritage with Jean Mouton, founder of the settlement that eventually became Lafayette. They count a Civil War general, a governor, a U.S. senator and other prominent Louisiana figures in their ranks.
Ray Mouton also made his mark. At Our Lady of Fatima high school he was a star quarterback, voted MVP of the All Acadiana team. Two years later he ran off to Mexico with the prettiest girl in his sophomore college class, married her and went on to graduate from Lousiana State University law school.
As a lawyer, Mouton poured himself into his cases with the same zeal that made him a star quarterback, sometimes going days without sleep while he was preparing for trial.
It paid off. By the mid-1980s he had tried two personal injury cases that resulted in record verdicts and was involved in a number of other high profile trials.
“I had a significant media profile locally for a young lawyer,” he said.
He was known as a firebrand and he lived up to the reputation. Mouton drove flashy cars. He liked champagne. He, his wife and their three children lived on a sprawling estate in a remote corner of Lafayette Parish.
“We had 15 acres,” recalled Mouton. “We had a big home that was a replica of an 1850s Acadian farmhouse, a Cajun guest cottage, a large bass pond, stables, horses, a swimming pool, and landscaping.
“There were irises on the banks of the pond.”
Gilbert Gauthe was none of those things. Born into a poor farming family in Napoleonville in Assumption Parish in 1945, he was the eldest of eight children. An introvert and a poor student he more or less strayed into the priesthood. He attended the now-defunct Immaculata Seminary in Lafayette, then squeaked through Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. After failing several classes, he was ordained in 1971.
He might have remained obscure, had he not been a predatory pedophile. As his crimes came to light and case after case was brought against him and the Lafayette Diocese, Gauthe’s life was chronicled in multiple court records.
Having been molested himself around the age of 9 by an older boy, Gauthe preyed on boys of roughly the same age, the sons of his parishioners, scores of them.
Though timid around adults, he could be a fiend with children, once telling a reluctant boy that, if he told about their sexual encounters, Gauthe would kill his father and, as a priest, “make sure he goes to hell.”
He told family members and others that he never felt any real commitment to the priesthood, but confided to his brother, Richard, another pedophile who was eventually arrested and jailed in Great Britain, that it offered unlimited access to young boys.
Gauthe took advantage of that access and a pattern emerged. Over a decade beginning in 1972, Gauthe moved from Broussard to New Iberia to Abbeville to Henry, molesting boys in each location. The late Bishop Gerard Frey, then in charge of the Diocese of Lafayette and Gauthe’s supervisor, was repeatedly told of Gauthe’s crimes, but responded only by moving the priest every time rumors began to spread.
Frey also told parents of the victims to have their sons go to confession and repent their participation in the sexual episodes.
Then, he made Gauthe chaplain of the Boy Scouts.
It all came to an end in 1984, however. A number of suits were brought against the diocese by parents of Gauthe’s victims that year. At first, all the plaintiffs settled out of court. The late J. Minos Simon, a crusty, garrulous Lafayette lawyer, refused to settle, however. Simon’s suit became public, forcing the district attorney to file a criminal case against Gauthe, and Gauthe became the first Catholic priest in U.S. history to face indictment for multiple cases of child molestation.
The Diocese of Lafayette suddenly needed a criminal defense attorney, a Catholic who would have the church’s interest at heart. They turned to one of the best.
“I took the case out of vanity and greed,” said Mouton. “I knew it would be a high profile case and I knew the church had unlimited funds to defend it.”
Beyond that, said Mouton, he waded into his defense of Gauthe with a certain naiveté. As a criminal defense attorney, he thought he had seen the worst of humanity, but this was his mother church. Gauthe, he reasoned, must be an aberration.
“I honestly believed the church was a repository of goodness,” Mouton said. “As it turns out, it wasn’t.
“When I decided to take that case, I destroyed my life, my family, my faith. In three years, I lost everything I held dear.”
Mouton’s first meeting with his client was unnerving.
“No one would have believed this nondescript, mild-mannered, soft-spoken person could have done the things he was charged with,” said Mouton.
“And then he began to speak about these things and being in that room with him was the creepiest experience of my life, a horror that returned to me in nightmares.”
Mouton believed he was representing a true sex maniac and his strategy was to have Gauthe admit to his crimes and plead insanity. The list of victims had grown to 37 by then. An insanity defense would keep the victims from having to testify and Mouton hoped to have Gauthe serve out whatever term he got in a treatment facility.
“The church fought me at every turn,” said Mouton. “They wanted me to plead him out and make it go away.”
Eventually, so did Gauthe. Though Gauthe first seemed fearful of prison, in the midst of the legal proceedings Mouton noticed that his client had become complacent and seemed to have few worries about his fate.
“I didn’t know it then, but Gilbert had (the late) Judge Henry Politz on his side,” said Mouton.
As the case progressed, Mouton’s obsessive habits worked to his client’s advantage, but not his own. He would work days without sleeping, self-medicate with a bottle of vodka or gin, sleep fitfully and rise to begin again.
As news of the case spread, Mouton and his family began to receive threats. Mouton’s son was embroiled in fights in school over Mouton, and the lawyer’s long hours began taking their toll on his marriage.
His faith in the church, something he had never questioned, began to erode as well. As he dug into the Gauthe case he found evidence that church officials had long known that Gauthe was a child molester. Worse, Mouton found evidence of first one and then another and another pedophile priest in the Lafayette Diocese. That number eventually rose to seven.
And as he watched his health and his marriage slip away, Mouton began to lose something else, his unflinching faith in the church as the one institution of good.
“I didn’t consider quitting. I couldn’t quit,” said Mouton. “I felt somebody had to do something, do all in their power, to protect innocent children from bishops who covered up crimes of demented criminal priests who belonged in prison.”
As the Gauthe case wound toward a close, its publicity brought forward other victims of other priests across the country. Lawsuits against the church began to multiply. Gauthe’s crimes alone would cost the diocese at least $10 million.
Mouton joined with two priests, canon lawyer Father Thomas Doyle and the late Rev. Michael Peterson, a church psychiatrist who treated troubled priests, to make a report for the Vatican on the state of pedophilia in the U.S. church.
Working over a period of months, traveling the country, the trio compiled a report that concluded that the problem of pedophilia was so widespread in the Catholic clergy that the cost in dollars could eventually reach $1 billion and would be a public relations nightmare. The cost to the church would be staggering, they warned.
The cost in human suffering could not be measured.
Church leaders initially appeared thankful for the report, then turned their backs on it, said Mouton.
“They swept it under the rug.”
Doyle, who served as chaplain to the U.S. Air Force until 2004, agreed.
“In the beginning, both Ray and I naively believed that when confronted with the truth that the church would do the right thing and act in accord with its teachings,” said Doyle.
“At a minimum, we thought it would have the common decency and common sense to do all in its power to heal the wounds of innocent victims, and in the process remove criminal clerics from the ministry, reporting them to police authorities,” said Doyle.
“How wrong we were. It shook my faith and it shook Ray’s.”
Mouton ended the Gauthe case and the report a ruined man. By 1987 his law practice was gone and his marriage was ended. The country estate sat vacant and Mouton was falling apart.
“I felt then as I do now that every bishop who has covered up a clerical crime belongs in prison with the priest,” he said. “I knew no one in the church had ever done anything about this or ever would do anything about it.
“I worked, battling the diocese, the American Church and the Vatican until I literally burned myself up spiritually, mentally, and physically.”
Mouton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the psychological driving wheel that can lead to great success or catastrophic failure.
And, he said, he had another problem as well.
“I also was a full-blown alcoholic.”
In prison, Gauthe led a charmed life.
In October 1986, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 20 years. Under a plea bargain worked out by Mouton, he was to get psychiatric treatment and was to be required to take Depo-Provera to diminish his sex drive.
He was sent to David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, and the mantle of protection from Politz, at that point chief justice of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, followed him there.
The bond between one of Louisiana’s worst child molesters and one of its most powerful jurists was both real and puzzling. Politz was a giant in Louisiana’s legal community, a former president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, an officeholder on numerous boards and a man in whose name a scholarship has been established at the LSU law school.
From the day that Gauthe was charged, Politz became his protector. In an interview in 1998, Politz said that it was the result of family ties that reached back to Napoleonville.
“My father and his grandfather sharecropped together in Napoleonville,” Politz told the Houston Chronicle. “When my father died at a very early age, Gilbert’s grandfather befriended my mother.
“Gilbert’s mother and my sister were best friends. It’s as simple as that.”
Largely due to Politz’s intervention, Gauthe was given his own air-conditioned studio in Wade where he painted signs and portraits. The walls of that studio were glass, so that Gauthe could be observed by guards, but he soon hung portraits on the walls, hiding himself and his teenage assistants from sight.
He was allowed to leave the prison for extended furloughs to visit his mother. Politz visited him regularly and, on occasion, took him and prison officials to lunch at a nearby country club.
In September 1995, Gauthe was released from prison 11 years early. He moved to Polk County, Texas, to the tiny community of Ace where he was arrested months later and charged with molesting a 3-year-old boy.
Once again, Politz stepped in. Robert C. Bennett, a powerhouse Houston lawyer who practices primarily in federal courts, arrived in Polk County to defend Gauthe. With Bennett’s help, a lack of cooperation by Louisiana authorities and what the district attorney described as a weak case, Gauthe was allowed to plead no contest to a non-sexual charge of injury to a child.
He was given seven years probation.
He later moved to Waskom, on the Texas-Louisiana border, then south of Houston to Galveston County.
By then, however, Gauthe’s mentor was gone. Politz died in 2002 and, in 2008, Gauthe was arrested for failing to register in Galveston County as a sex offender. He served two years and was released in April 2010.
As Gauthe was painting in his prison studio, Ray Mouton was running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
He still had money and, with his life at a crossroads, he headed for Europe.
“I quit drinking,” he said. “My sobriety date is Nov. 15, 1987 — I have not had a sip of alcohol since.”
Instead, he found release running two feet in front of the horns of a 1,500-pound beast that wanted to kill him.
The “running of the bulls” is a tradition across Spain, but particularly in Pamplona. There, a dozen or more fighting bulls are loosed in the streets and members of the crowd run in front of them to test their courage.
“I first attended Fiesta De San Fermin in Pamplona in July 1970 and ran with the bulls for the first time that summer,” said Mouton.
He did it again after the Gauthe case and continued the practice until 1998, when he fell, breaking an arm and almost dying from a subsequent heart attack.
He found another release as well. Mouton had always written: essays, short stories, observations. In writing he found an outlet for the manic obsession that drove him in law, but one that did not threaten to kill him.
Mouton began spending most of his time in Europe. In 2002, he published “Pamplona, Running the bulls bars and barrios in Fiesta de San Fermin.” The book, replete with stunning photographs and vivid descriptions, has been praised as the definitive account of Pamplona’s fiesta and running of the bulls.
More recently, however, he has written another, a sprawling novel about a Louisiana lawyer who defends a pedophile priest and almost loses everything in the process.
“This is a work of fiction, but, obviously, it wouldn’t be the same if I hadn’t lived through what I did,” he said.
“It’s dedicated to the victims, children around the world who are survivors of clergy abuse and those who did not survive.”
The book has done well in England, Ireland and Scotland, and is available on amazon.com. It does not yet have a U.S. publisher and Mouton said he intends to begin searching for one this fall.
It is a book that will not be welcomed by the church, though a spokesman for the Lafayette Diocese said the diocese was not aware that the novel had been published and would have no comment on it.
Currently, Mouton spends most of his time at his home in southern France, where he is working on several other novels. In the mornings, he often walks out on his terrace, and looks across the valley to the little church below.
Mouton no longer considers himself a member of the Catholic Church, or any organized religion. Still, old habits die hard and, once in a while, he quietly slips into the little church alone.
“I only go into churches to light candles and pray while lighting them,” said Mouton.
“To me, the perfect prayer is when one focuses all of their energy on another in the moment when a candle is lit. I light candles for people I know who have troubles of any kind in their life, especially those who are ill.
“But I always light the first candle for all the innocent children whose names I will never know.
“All those children who have been abused.”