Diocese of Lafayette must give some information in sex abuse lawsuit, court rules

Daily Advertiser [Lafayette LA]

March 31, 2021

By Ashley White

A Louisiana appellate court ruled the Diocese of Lafayette must give information to a woman’s lawyer who has filed a lawsuit against the church and a former priest. 

The Third Circuit Court of Appeal said in its ruling last week that the diocese must respond to some questions before a Lafayette Parish judge can rule whether the lawsuit was brought forward in a timely fashion. 

The questions are being asked by the lawyer of a woman, named only as TM Doe, who is suing the Diocese of Lafayette and Msgr. Robie Robichaux for damages after the woman claimed Robichaux abused her as a teen. 

Robichaux was placed on leave in October 2018 after sexual abuse claims were brought against him. At least two victims have come forward and reported sexual abuse against Robichaux. He was on the Diocese of Lafayette’s list of credibly accused priests that was released in April 2019.

What information must the Diocese provide?

The appeals court ruled that Doe and her attorney are allowed to ask the Diocese of Lafayette to provide answers to questions that pertain to a hearing that would decide whether the lawsuit was filed within the statute of limitations. 

Doe and her attorney, Richard Trahant, asked the church to answer 28 questions and provide 73 documents. The third circuit ruled the church was compelled to answer nine questions and provide 35 documents. 

Msgr Robie Robichaux appears in an online video where he speaks about forgiveness. - Daily Advertiser
Msgr Robie Robichaux appears in an online video where he speaks about forgiveness. – Daily Advertiser

Some of the materials the church must provide include how much Robichaux has been paid since being removed from the church, identifying any documents relating to the lawsuit, identifying claims and investigations by the diocese of sexual contact with minors by Robichaux, detailing any reports or investigations by law enforcement into Robichaux and explaining why Robichaux was promoted when there were claims of sexual abuse against him.

The church also must produce documents that include policies for document retention and destruction, sexual abuse reporting policies, Robichaux’s personnel file, documents related to Doe and public statements or press releases relative to Doe’s claim and other claims of sexual abuse by a cleric. 

Smith can rule on specific objections filed by the diocese, the third circuit ruled. 

What does the lawsuit against Robie Robichaux, Diocese of Lafayette allege? 

In her lawsuit filed in March 2020, Doe said she grew up in a Catholic family and was taught that “priests were to be revered as messengers of Christ,” according to court documents. 

Doe said when she was a teenager she went to St. Peter’s Catholic Church in New Iberia, where Robichaux was a priest, for counseling after a break-up. 

“On the second counseling visit made by TM Doe to Robichaux, he took her into his bedroom and told her that ‘God wants me to have intimacy and you are God’s gift to me,'” Doe’s attorney, Trahant, wrote. 

Robichaux sexually abused Doe for two years from when she was 16 until she was 18 between 1979 and 1981, according to a statement released by the diocese in . 

She reported the abuse in the early 1990s to then-Bishop Harry Flynn. Doe said Flynn told her he talked to Robichaux and that he would be sent to Dallas for two weeks of evaluations, according to court records. 

Flynn agreed to pay for Doe’s past therapy and future therapy up to five years but she had to sign a paper that said the money was not an admission of guilt by the church. Doe refused, according to the lawsuit. 

Doe was later put in touch with a vicar general who told her she should “get over” what happened to her, she said. Robichaux later returned to the church. 

Doe again reported the sexual assault about a decade later after a zero-tolerance policy was created in 2002. She provided the church with a sworn affidavit about the abuse.

Robichaux, who was in St. Mary Parish at the time, was transferred, according to the lawusit. 

“But instead of being disciplined, defrocked, removed from ministry or reported to the police, Robichaux was promoted to monsignor and to the position of Judicial Vicar of the Dioceses,” even though the church had knowledge of Doe’s allegations, Trahant wrote in his filing.

The bishop at the time later told Doe that because she was 16 at the time of the abuse, canon law didn’t consider her to be a minor therefore the abuse wouldn’t be considered a crime and he couldn’t remove Robichaux, according to court filings. 

Doe reported her abuse a third time in September 2018. She was told her file had been lost but provided her own documents to the church. Her allegation was submitted to the Diocesan Review Board, which found her claim credible and Robichaux was removed from the ministry

In her lawsuit, Doe claims the church was negligent in failing to protect her from harm and failing to report Robichaux’s abuse to law enforcement. The lawsuit also alleges the church fraudulently concealed the abuse and created a public nuisance by shielding Robichaux. She also claims she suffers from a physical injury because of the abuse. 

Her lawsuit seeks damages “in an amount that will fully compensate her for her past and future physical pain and suffering, past and future mental anguish; past and future medical expenses; disability; loss and impairment of life’s pleasures; loss of enjoyment of life.” 

The Diocese of Lafayette filed a response stating it should be exempt from the lawsuit because of the passage of time since the alleged abuse. 

“After making demands spanning 26 years, the plaintiff now asserts disingenuous theories of recovery that mock the rule of law,” Gilbert Dozier, an attorney representing the diocese, wrote in a filing. 

The diocese later said that it shouldn’t have to give Doe and her attorney answers or documents because “the only factual issues before the court relate to the viability of the civil suit, not the substantive claim regarding liability or damages.”

Contact Ashley White at adwhite@theadvertiser.com or on Twitter @AshleyyDi