Retired, credibly accused New Orleans priests get back medical benefits; pensions still halted

Times-Picayune and New Orleans Advocate

May 20, 2020

By Ramon Antonio Vargas

The federal judge overseeing the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ bankruptcy case on Wednesday ordered the church to reinstate medical benefits for retired priests faced with credible child sexual molestation allegations but to continue withholding their stipends for living expenses.

U.S. District Judge Meredith Grabill had issued an order that effectively suspended all payments to such priests three days after the archdiocese’s May 1 filing for bankruptcy protection. But she amended her mandate after retired clergyman Gerard Howell, 80, argued that her initial ruling amounted to “a death sentence” for him.

Howell, who was suspected of molesting children growing up in the state’s deaf community during the 1960s and 1970s, told Grabill he was displeased only a portion of his benefits were restored.

“I’m making a petition to overrule that! … It seems punitive,” Howell, who was not represented by an attorney, said to Grabill. “Oh, Lord.”

As the judge adjourned the 75-minute, telephone hearing, attorney Richard Trahant — who represents clergy-abuse claimants and had asked Grabill to abide by her initial ruling — mockingly repeated the word “punitive.”

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