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  Slidell Man Claims Abuse by Priest
Assault on Teenager in 1980 Is Alleged

By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
March 9, 2004

A Slidell man's campaign to be compensated for a priest's alleged sexual assault on him years ago opens a window into the difficult confrontations that continue between sex abuse victims and church officials, even as the Catholic Church insists it is trying to put victims first.

Rick Monsour, an unemployed musician and businessman, said he told officials at the Archdiocese of New Orleans two years ago that the Rev. Carl Davidson tried to force himself sexually on Monsour as a 17-year-old high school student.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans quietly relieved Davidson of his duties soon after hearing complaints from Monsour and from a second man who said he had been assaulted sexually by Davidson.

They also required Monsour to submit to an evaluation by a psychologist as a condition of getting church-paid counseling or negotiating civil damages.

"We need to have the assessment to know what to do for him; I don't think that's unfair," said the Rev. William Maestri, the archdiocese's spokesman.

But Monsour, backed by victims' groups locally and nationally, refuses to let a psychologist share his report with the church, believing that confidential information from the interview might make its way into the hands of church lawyers, to his disadvantage.

"It's like seeing the company doctor when you're hurt on the job," said Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "We haven't had a lot of good experiences with that."

The result is a public standoff between Monsour and the archdiocese.

While a dozen placard-carrying members of the local chapter of SNAP waited for an hour on the sidewalk Friday, Monsour and an acquaintance discussed his case with Auxiliary Bishop Roger Morin and a staff priest at the archdiocese's Uptown office.

Morin and the Rev. Joe Palermo maintained the church's position of the past two years. They insisted that Monsour consult a psychologist and share his report before they would extend help.

"They said that was their process and they didn't want to budge," Monsour said.

In fact, the dispute is sharper than that.

Monsour said the archdiocese has always demanded that he see a particular psychologist of the church's own choosing, whom he does not trust.

Not so, said Maestri. Almost from the beginning "we said, you pick him, we'll pay" — an assertion Monsour angrily insisted again Monday was not true.

In the meeting Friday, Monsour said he demanded an apology, counseling and damages, including the value of a scholarship to an undergraduate seminary he rejected in disgust a few weeks after his 1980 encounter with Davidson.

"I got robbed," said Monsour, now 41. "I was going to be a priest; now I can't stand the church. I lost my faith."

Their standoff highlights the gulf of distrust that still exists between many victims and church officials.

Church officials point to a slew of new policies designed to provide care for old sex abuse victims and new safeguards to make sure new victims are heard.

"My understanding is that in this two-year dialogue the church has consistently tried to be forthcoming, pastorally responsible and sensitive to his needs," Maestri said.

He pointed out that Monsour has been given an appointment next week with Archbishop Alfred Hughes.

But victims' advocates frequently charge that behind the new policies is an old mindset that still gives first priority to limiting the legal and financial threat to the church rather than caring for victims.

For instance, Monsour said he did not know that Palermo, the priest who sat in on the meeting with Morin, was a lawyer in civilian life before turning to the priesthood. Palermo sat in because he heads a department that runs pastoral services, not because of his law degree, Maestri said.

As a general rule, victims advocates sharing their experiences with local dioceses on the Internet frequently warn victims to approach the church warily, if at all.

In many cases, victims speaking to church psychologists learn that confidential material finds its way back into the hands of church lawyers, said Lyn Hill Hayward, founder of the Louisiana chapter of SNAP.

For instance, a woman who discloses in confidence she was sexually abused by a family member as well as a priest might find the church using the family assault to minimize her claim, SNAP's Blaine said.

"We would never use confidential information against a victim," Maestri said. "Our guidelines dictate that we are not to have an adversarial relationship with a victim, and this would be just that.

"It would also be a despicable misuse of the assessment."

Monsour said he was assaulted during an overnight stay — common in 1980 — in a rectory attached to St. John Vianney Prep in New Orleans, a now defunct school for teenage boys considering the priesthood. That night Davidson, a music teacher at the school, allegedly tried to force himself on Monsour sexually.

Monsour, then 17, said he fought him off and slept on the floor. He told his parents and school officials about the incident at the time, then quickly dropped his plans to become a priest.

In the summer of 2002, Monsour said, he and another former student who said he had been abused by Davidson independently told their stories to archdiocesan authorities. Monsour said a few weeks later they were told Davidson had been relieved of his ministry.

The other former student's story was deemed credible and by itself was the basis of the action against Davidson, Maestri said. Monsour's story bore what Maestri called "the semblance of truth," — not conclusive, "but we are still hopeful of developing more information."

It was then that church officials urged Monsour to see a psychologist, which he still refuses to do.

Davidson, like Monsour, was a musician. He taught music at St. John Vianney Prep, later gave organ recitals and subsequently appeared in newspaper listings as an accompanist to the St. Louis Cathedral Boychoir in the late 1990s.

The archdiocese did not disclose the finding against him in 2002. An archdiocesan directory for the first time listed Davidson as "retired" in 2003. He now lives in Houma and reportedly has throat cancer, Monsour said.

A telephone message left on Davidson's answering machine was not returned.

Monsour is especially angry, he said, that when he warned he would make his story public, Morin "tried to make me feel guilty" by asking, " 'How much more do you want Carl Davidson to suffer?' "

"I said, 'Excuse me? I thought you were thinking more of the victims these days, but I guess not.' "

CORRECTION: Work status clarified: The work status of Rick Monsour, a Slidell man who has come forward as a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, was reported incorrectly in some Tuesday editions. Monsour is self-employed.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at bnolan@timespicayune.com or at (504) 826-3344.

 
 

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