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  Charges Dropped; Priest to Undergo Counseling

By Acadiana Bureau
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
May 14, 1997

LAFAYETTE - A Catholic priest, who had charges of indecent behavior with a juvenile dropped by prosecutors, will undergo counseling before the Diocese of Lafayette decides if he should be reassigned to another church, according to the priest's attorney.

The Rev. Mark Richard, 29, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Rayne, was arrested in January by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office after he was found in a parked vehicle with a 14-year-old boy.

Last week, the Lafayette Parish District Attorney's Office announced that the charge against Richard was being dropped.

The priest's attorney, Frank Dawkins, said forensic evidence clears his client of sexual misconduct.

Dawkins said Richard was cleared after DNA testing on the contents of a condom found on the road beside Richard's parked car.

Dawkins said his client was driving home with the boy, after visiting with Richard's family in New Iberia, and Richard was counseling the youth on some personal problems and they stopped on the road.

Richard had agreed to allow the boy to drive home, Dawkins said, and after they talked the priest gave the boy a hug.

Dawkins said both individuals had removed their shoes when authorities approached the car.

"Otherwise they were fully clothed," Dawkins said.

The attorney admitted that the scenario sounds suspicious, but insists his client didn't do anything illegal.

"It's not the setting to conduct counseling," Dawkins said.

"He fully appreciates how something like this could look very poorly to outsiders," Dawkins said.

Richard and the boy consistently denied anything untoward happened, Dawkins said, despite persistent questioning by police.

"It's very normal for police to assume the worst," Dawkins said.

Dawkins said Richard is with his parents in New Iberia, and he was not emotionally prepared to be present at Tuesday's press conference.

The priest will undergo counseling in Maryland before the diocese decides if Richard should be allowed to return as pastor at St. Joseph's, Dawkins said.

"This has been an emotional roller coaster for him," Dawkins said.

"Father Richard has learned a very tough lesson from this.

"He forgives anyone who was involved in this matter which led to his arrest," Dawkins said.

Last week, Bishop Edward O'Donnell said the diocese is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

"There are some questions about his prudence in the circumstances in which he found himself," O'Donnell said.

 
 

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