Bishop Says Priest Denies Charge

By Calvin Lear
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
January 15, 1997

LAFAYETTE - Seeking to address the allegation head-on and quickly, Catholic Bishop Edward O'Donnell met with reporters Tuesday to answer questions about Monday's arrest of a Rayne priest for indecent behavior with a juvenile.

O'Donnell said he will meet with St. Joseph parishioners in Rayne this Sunday for a prayer service and to answer any questions they might have about the diocese's handling of the allegation against the parish's associate pastor, the Rev. Mark Richard.

O'Donnell said he spoke with the boy's mother and offered to meet with the family and the boy.

The mother said it was not necessary and expressed "continued confidence" in Richard, O'Donnell said.

The boy's mother declined counseling offered by the diocese.

The bishop also said he spoke with Richard, and the priest told him nothing improper happened. "He says it very strongly," O'Donnell said.

Richard is at a private residence.

He was placed on administrative leave and is forbidden from conducting priestly duties or from going on church property until investigations by the church and deputies are complete and the matter is ended, O'Donnell said.

Authorities with the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Department said deputies arrested the 29-year-old priest after finding him parked on a dead-end road with a 14-year-old boy.

A patrolling deputy spotted Richard's car on Hapsburg Lane at 1:03 a.m. Monday.

The priest said the boy had problems "and needed to talk," but deputies arrested him after noticing his and the boy's clothes in disarray, authorities said.

Neither had shoes on, and a condom was found next to the car, authorities said.

O'Donnell said Richard has an attorney, but declined to identify him.

The bishop used the press conference to urge Catholics not to miss the focal point of their faith.

"This is not a presumption of guilt or innocence on the part of Father Richard, but we all get disappointed in the actions of our leaders at times," O'Donnell said.

"And in the church, the one that we really follow isn't any priest or any spiritual leader or any guru. It's Jesus Christ. All the priest does is proclaim Jesus. "

He said the diocese was concerned that justice be done.

"All of us have been hurt by this in different ways," O'Donnell said. "We can't all be called victims in the same way, but the diocese wants to do everything that it can to alleviate that hurt.

"We will cooperate completely with all that has to be done by all the police and all the civic officials. "

A review of Richard's personnel file showed that "there has never been any allegation of sexual improprieties," O'Donnell said.

The priest is from New Iberia, O'Donnell said. He spent the year prior to his ordination at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and was ordained in June.

His first and only assignment was to St. Joseph in Rayne, O'Donnell said.

"I know that he has been close to this young man," he said.

He said that he has been informed by both the pastor and the family that Richard's impact on the family and on the young man has been positive, O'Donnell said.

"He knew him through his priestly work. "

The pastor at St. Joseph's is the Rev. Eugene Tremie.


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