Bishop Says Priest Resigns

United Press International
November 25, 1985

Bishop Gerard Frey Monday contradicted earlier statements by church officials and announced that the Rev. John Engbers, accused of sexually molesting young girls in the 1950s, had resigned.

The prelate did not say when Engbers resigned, but the priest reportedly left Louisiana in July for his native Holland, which does not honor U.S. extradition requests.

Frey's statement that Engber resigned at his request contradicts earlier remarks by himself and Diocesan Vicar Monsignor H.A. Larroque to Abbeville Attorney Anthony Fontana.

Fontana said Larroque told him in late July that Engbers had involuntarily retired, while Frey said the next day he had suspended Engbers from the priesthood.

Canon law does not allow priests to resign their vows . Laicization - stripping a man from the priesthood -- can only come from the pope. Bishops, however, may suspend wayward clergy.

A priest may resign his pastorship, which appears to be the case with Engbers. In such a case he retains the right to say mass and give sacraments.

Frey said he asked Engbers to continue therapy.

"And I was, of course, deeply concerned about the women who may have in any way been victims of his actions," he added.

"I am informed by the church's legal advisors that the church has no liability under the law for Father Engber's actions which allegedly occurred many years ago," said Frey, referring to the law of prescription, which restricts how long after a crime is committed it may be prosecuted.

Fontana filed suit two weeks ago on behalf of five sisters, whose maiden name was Butaud. The sisters, now adults, claim they were molested by Frey when they were children.

Fontana claims the sisters only bacame aware of each other's victimization by Engbers recently and determined to take court action only when church officials refused to remove the 63-year-old priest from his post.

Frey's statement Monday made no reference to a second suit Fontana filed on behalf of a juvenile allegedly molested by the priest.

Last week, a Lake Charles woman also claimed Engbers molested her in 1952 before the Butaud sisters claim they were abused.

The mother of the Lake Charles woman said church authorities had assured her at the time that Engbers would receive therapy, but she saw him perform a wedding a month later in another part of the state.

Frey said the first report he received on Engbers was in January.

"If there were allegations in the past made to my predecessors, Bishop Maurice Schexnayder and/or Bishop Jules Jeanmard, I am confident they acted according to what they considered the best thing to do at the time," he said.

Church canon law requires each diocese to maintain a secret archives detailing cases involving a delict, or criminal violation of the canonical codes. The bishop made no reference to any archival reports on Engbers.

Monsignor George Bodin has said he reported Engbers for the 1952 incident.

Frey, who became bishop in 1972, said the five sisters are receiving therapy at church expense.

"I have tried to reach out to the victims as my Christian duty obliges me," he said.

Under ground rules laid down by chancery officials, reporters were not allowed to ask questions as Frey read the statement.


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