Ex-Altar Boy Speaks out against Local Priest
By John DeSantis
September 1, 2007
MORGAN CITY — Accusations of sexual impropriety against a Houma priest — currently on a mandated leave of absence — are now under investigation by law-enforcement authorities.
A police report filed Tuesday by a 25-year-old former altar boy alleges that when he was between the ages of 9 and 15, the Rev. Etienne LeBlanc, then the pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Morgan City, sexually molested him on as many as two dozen occasions.
The charge listed on the report is "molestation of a juvenile."
In an interview, the 25-year-old, whose name is being withheld by The Courier because he's allegedly the victim of a sex crime, said he was first molested by LeBlanc in the Holy Cross rectory after he was told he was too young to be an altar boy.
He said he subsequently was made an altar boy, and that the alleged abuse continued periodically after that.
"He abused his position. He abused the fact that I wanted to serve God, and he manipulated it," the accuser said.
ONE AND THE SAME
Allegations against LeBlanc were already under investigation by the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux last weekend, when Bishop Sam Jacobs informed parishioners at Houma's Annunziata Catholic Church that a complaint had been made. The bishop also told those who attended Sunday Mass that their pastor denied any improper acts.
Jacobs told Mass attendees that, in accordance with a new diocesan policy designed to protect children and young people, LeBlanc was scheduled to undergo mental evaluations. The bishop noted that the accusations, for now, are just that, and that no judgments have been made.
Diocesan officials would not confirm Friday whether the Morgan City man's claim and the matter they are investigating are the same, citing a promise of confidentiality made by them.
The accuser, however, said he has no doubt that the complaint that resulted in LeBlanc's removal from the pulpit was his.
The accuser filed the report with police and agreed to disclose details concerning his allegations in an interview, which took place at his home Friday morning.
"He stated Father LeBlanc told him if he ever told anyone no one would believe him because he was a priest," states the report, prepared by officer Blaze Bourg.
The matter has been referred to detectives, who have not yet interviewed the accuser.
WANTS OTHERS TO TALK
A reporter left a message with the diocese offering LeBlanc an opportunity to respond to the accuser's allegations. However, officials said a response is currently not possible.
"Professionals conducting the (mental) evaluation have expressed a wish that he not be disturbed at this time," said Diocesan spokesman Louis Aguirre.
The Diocesan Vicar General, the Rev. Jay L. Baker, visited the accuser while he was held at the Morgan City jail on an unrelated parole violation last week. The accuser said Baker asked him if he wished the accusations to be made public, and he told the official he would prefer the information be kept private.
Now released from jail, the man said he has since changed his mind.
"I want people to know so that others can come forward," said the accuser, who claims there are other alleged victims who have told him they do not wish to press the matter.
SHRIMP BOATS AND ALTARS
Born to a devout St. Mary Parish family, the accuser said his earliest boyhood memories center on traveling with relatives in shrimp boats. Although he displayed some minor conduct problems while in elementary school, the accuser said his childhood was largely happy, and very much centered on Holy Cross, where he worshipped, attended elementary school and also high school.
While in elementary school, the accuser said, he marveled at the youngsters who served on the altar beside the priests and expressed a driving desire to do so himself.
"I knew I wanted to serve God, and that was the only way I knew how as a kid," he said.
In 1991, at the age of 9, he said he approached the pastor about becoming an altar boy.
The accuser said the priest rebuffed him because of his age and went into another room, from which he called out a few moments later.
When he entered the room, the accuser said, LeBlanc was seated in a reclining chair half-dressed, and described the sexual favor that would result in his becoming an altar boy at an early age.
He also said that he complied, although filled with fear.
"I felt so many things, but more than anything I felt terrified," he said.
After the act was completed, he said, he was crying in a hallway of the rectory and another priest asked him what was wrong, but he didn't tell.
Other encounters followed, said the accuser.
There were no attempts, he said, at friendship. The encounters, he said, were purely mechanical.
He did not say no, he said, because he simply did not know how.
THE TIME HAD COME
The encounters troubled him, the accuser said. Finally, at the age of 14 or 15, he chose to end his time as an altar server. LeBlanc, he said, publicly thanked him for his service and presented him with a certificate of appreciation.
No direct contact with LeBlanc followed, he said, but continued behavioral problems did.
There were several short stays at mental hospitals, as well as petty crimes. A conviction of molestation of a juvenile — relatives said the victim was the daughter of a girlfriend — landed him a spot on Louisiana's sex-offender registry.
As years passed, the memory of the alleged molestation at the rectory continued to gnaw at him, he said, until just a few weeks ago when he decided to speak out.
"The time had come," said the accuser, who wrote down his claims in early August and addressed them to a special church office in Lafayette after watching a news broadcast about molestation cases in California. "Suddenly, I no longer felt so alone."
He heard from a diocesan representative and was told that an investigation had begun.
After he contacted the Louisiana chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a support and advocacy organization which uses the acronym SNAP, the accuser said he felt more empowered to speak out.
Although considering a lawsuit, he said he has not yet hired an attorney.
"It's not about money," the accuser said during a conversation on the porch of his Morgan City home. "There is not a day that goes by I don't think about it. I don't wish him any ill will. But I hope he comes to terms with what he has done. I am not ready to forgive yet."
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