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  Reports Identify Accused Priest

By Michelle Millhollon
State-Times/Morning Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
April 20, 2002

Two Baton Rouge television news stations, citing anonymous sources, identified a former priest Friday who is accused of sexual misconduct in a recently settled lawsuit against the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

In a related issue, a judge ruled Friday that District Attorney Doug Moreau can examine the lawsuit for possible criminal allegations.

The lawsuit was settled Wednesday for an undisclosed amount. All records have been under seal by judges' orders since 1999.

In their 6 p.m. newscasts, WAFB TV-Channel 9 and WBRZ TV-Channel 2 both identified the priest as Daniel Lemoine. The stations said Lemoine once served at Our Lady of Mercy in Baton Rouge and in other church parishes.

Baton Rouge attorney Fred Crifasi would neither confirm nor deny that Lemoine was the defendant he represented in the lawsuit. He said he could not comment because of the judge's order and the agreement in the settlement, barring any disclosure of details.

"I'm surprised that a name, any name, would be published," Crifasi said.

An attorney for the victim in the suit declined to comment on the report, citing a judge's order to seal the record.

A spokesman for the diocese also refused comment.

The priest was listed as "Bill Doe" on court dockets. Pseudonyms also were used for the victim and the diocese.

Moreau said he expects to receive the case file early next week.

"The district attorney certainly has an obligation to investigate crime," state District Judge Janice Clark said before agreeing to turn over the sealed record to Moreau.

The ruling doesn't mean the public can peruse through the pages of the lawsuit.

The allegations raised in the lawsuit and the identity of the priest allegedly involved will remain off limits to everyone but Moreau, the judge said.

The 3-year-old lawsuit, which recently came to light, was settled late Wednesday for an undisclosed amount.

The victim's attorney, Darrel J. Papillion, said the lawsuit accuses a priest in the diocese of sexual misconduct with a teen-age boy. He said the victim met the priest in the early 1990s. The priest has been suspended by the diocese and apparently still lives in Baton Rouge, Papillion said.

Moreau said newspaper stories about the case piqued his interest and prompted him to ask for the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the priest, diocese and victim told the judge during a hearing Friday that they didn't object to the district attorney looking at the file.

Clark oversaw the settlement of the case. Another judge signed the order to seal the record. After the judge's ruling, Papillion said his sole concern is protecting the privacy of the victim. He said he hopes the media and the authorities will maintain the victim's anonymity if a criminal investigation is launched.

Crifasi said his client is concerned about adverse publicity but will cooperate fully in the examination of the case.

The priest doesn't have a criminal record, Crifasi said.

Moreau said he has to ensure that children aren't at risk.

"There's an obligation in this particular case to at least look at the allegations," Moreau said. Bob Furlow, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, said the diocese could not cooperate with the District Attorney's Office unless Clark cleared it to do so.

Furlow emphasized that the victim asked for the record to be sealed from the outset.

"The Catholic Church is just as much a victim as everyone else at this point," Furlow has said.

The church internally investigated the allegations when they first surfaced, he said.

The diocese typically appoints a committee of legal experts, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors to look into sexual misconduct allegations, Furlow said.

The priest in the recent lawsuit initially was placed on leave, evaluated and offered treatment, he said.

The committee must have concluded there was something to the allegations because the priest is no longer in the ministry, Furlow said.

The priest can attend Mass as a worshipper but cannot give communion, serve on any church committees or even play the organ during services, Furlow said.

The priest has been or will be defrocked, he said.

Furlow said he doesn't believe there have been separate allegations raised against the priest. This is the first time the diocese will have paid money in a legal matter involving sexual misconduct allegations, Furlow said.

In the past, the diocese has voluntarily reimbursed alleged victims "for treatment (and) rehabilitation to ease heartbreak," Furlow said.

The church's policy against sexual abuse by priests, which took effect in 1990, has been used against six different priests in the Baton Rouge diocese, he said.

All six cases involved different priests, all of whom are now out of the ministry, Furlow said. No other lawsuits against the Catholic Church have surfaced.

The diocese spans 70 church parishes within 12 civil parishes.

Furlow said victims often don't want to file criminal charges. That is particularly true when the victim is male and the alleged abuser is a priest, he said.

"The church has always respected the wishes of the victim," he said.

Moreau said the diocese is not necessarily obligated by law to report allegations of sexual misconduct.

 
 

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