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  Area Allegations May Have Led to Warrant

By Gwen O'Brien
South Bend Tribune (Indiana)
June 3, 2003

SOUTH BEND — A group of men from South Bend who allege they were sexually abused by the Rev. Paul LeBrun in the 1980s and decided to come forward may have indirectly led to the Holy Cross priest being indicted for similar accusations in Phoenix.

LeBrun, 47, is a Holy Cross priest who served at Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend for several years in the 1980s and 1990s. He left South Bend in 1986 for the Phoenix Diocese, where he worked in two parishes. He returned to Little Flower in 1991. He resigned from Little Flower in 1999, citing health reasons.

Indiana State Police Sgt. Don McCay, who leads a local investigation into LeBrun, said he knows of "in excess of five" alleged victims who say they were sexually abused by LeBrun here. The statute of limitations ran out for the alleged victims here so the cases are not prosecutable, McCay said. The investigation remains open.

Arizona complaints

According to a summary of the LeBrun investigation in Phoenix, supplied by the Maricopa County attorney's office, during the course of its ongoing probe into the Diocese of Phoenix, an allegation against LeBrun surfaced in October 2002.

The alleged victim came forward after his mother told him about a newspaper article she read about how LeBrun had been accused in another state of molesting children.

The Tribune published an article on Sept. 22 in which four men in their early to mid-30s accused LeBrun of sexual abuse.

The Arizona Republic of Phoenix ran a shorter version of the story.

A recent grand jury would find enough evidence on this allegation to hand down an indictment against LeBrun.

The male victim, who would now be 24 or 25, stated the incident happened in 1991 when he was 12 years old.

The victim told authorities he met LeBrun while a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church in Tolleson, where the boy also attended school and was a member of the youth group. LeBrun had started the youth center, according to authorities.

The Maricopa County attorney's investigation summary states the boy began to spend a lot of time with LeBrun. LeBrun would often baby-sit the boy and his brothers when their mother would visit sick relatives.

The now-adult victim told authorities that on Oct. 14, 1991, while LeBrun was baby-sitting at the home, the priest fondled him while he slept on a couch. The victim told police he was so scared, he kept his eyes closed and pretended to be asleep. The victim was able to remember the date clearly because his grandmother died the next day.

Holy Cross documents provided to McCay indicated another complaint involving a male who said he was abused by LeBrun.

The incident allegedly happened on a camping trip in another Arizona county. That complaint continues to be investigated.

The arrest

The Arizona arrest warrant was sealed until an Indiana State Police trooper presented it to LeBrun outside Holy Cross Mission House, west of the University of Notre Dame. McCay and two Arizona detectives were also present.

McCay said it remains to be seen whether he and the people he's interviewed will be subpoenaed to testify in the Arizona trial. The alleged victims in the Indiana investigation say they will not speak further to the press until after that case is resolved.

Holy Cross attorney Richard Nussbaum II, insists Holy Cross had no knowledge of possible abuse by LeBrun when they transferred him to Phoenix in 1986.

"If your question is was he sent there because of abuse allegations here, absolutely not," Nussbaum said.

Nussbaum said it is not uncommon for Holy Cross priests to go to Arizona, where the congregation has a large presence.

Nussbaum said the first time Holy Cross knew of a complaint against LeBrun was in late 1998.

Under scrutiny

The Rev. Robert Epping, the first assistant provincial of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Indiana Province, investigated the complaint.

"When Father Epping completed his investigation as a result of information he received, Father LeBrun was removed from Little Flower in 1999," Nussbaum said.

LeBrun was also forbidden from administering sacraments, but was allowed to work as a contract chaplain for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gary, serving at the Indiana State Prison.

Since 2000, LeBrun has lived at Holy Cross Mission House adjacent to Fatima Retreat Center. Families of the alleged victims complained to Epping repeatedly that LeBrun was living too close to children attending retreats.

"It was not irresponsible to have him there," Nussbaum said. "There were reasons he was there. That was the best place for him to be where (the order) could keep the best control of his comings and goings."

Nussbaum said LeBrun would have to report his activities to someone at the house at all times.

"He was also prohibited from being at the Fatima Retreat Center when retreats were going on, especially when there were children there," Nussbaum said.

"I think when the full story is able to be told, two heroes will emerge," Nussbaum said. "Sgt. Don McCay was relentless in his investigation, and Father Bob Epping, who was equally as zealous in following every lead and ministering to everyone who was harmed in any way."

 
 

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