After a priest’s abuse claims in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, lawsuit says diocese was negligent

Acadiana Advocate [Baton Rouge LA]

March 8, 2022

By Andrea Gallo

A man who says that a former Baton Rouge and New Orleans priest, the now-deceased Rev. John Anthony Weber, sexually abused him in the 1970s has filed a lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge under new laws that opened Louisiana’s window for victims of child sexual abuse to pursue civil claims.

The lawsuit is the first clergy sexual abuse claim that the Diocese of Baton Rouge has faced since releasing a list in 2019 of 46 clergy members who were credibly accused of sexual abuse and worked in the Diocese of Baton Rouge throughout its six-decade history. Weber was on the credibly accused clergy lists for both the Diocese of Baton Rouge and Archdiocese of New Orleans.

The Weber suit is also the first that the Diocese has faced under new laws that state lawmakers passed last year, which created a three-year window for all unresolved child molestation cases to be pursued in civil court, despite the age of the claims.

“As the case moves forward, you’ll see a pattern of grooming and indoctrinating the victim over time,” said Jessica Arbour, who is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff in the case.

He filed the lawsuit under the name John Doe to protect his privacy and because of the shame surrounding the abuse allegation, the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff was around 13 years old when he alleges that Weber abused him between 1975 and 1976 at the former St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church on Brookstown Drive. Facing declining attendance, the church closed in 2003 and St. Gerard Majella took in its parishioners, according to The Advocate’s archives.

“Weber sexually abused petitioner by engaging the then-minor in illegal sexual contact, including but not limited to, fondling and masturbation,” the lawsuit states.

Dan Borne, a spokesman for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, said Tuesday that it would have no comment on pending litigation.

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Weber has now been accused of abuse in at least three separate incidents across southeastern Louisiana.

In their 2019 list of credibly accused clergy, the Diocese of Baton Rouge reported that there was one abuse allegation against Weber from a past assignment in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Weber was assigned to Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Plattenville, where he was accused of a 1956 sexual abuse incident. He then moved to the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1961.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge reported that it had received the Plattenville abuse allegation against Weber in 1996, the year after he retired. He died in 2000, and the Archdiocese of New Orleans reported receiving an abuse allegation against him in 2005 stemming from an incident in the 1940s.

Arbour also said that she knows of at least one other child who Weber abused at the same time as the plaintiff in her lawsuit. She said the group had a secrecy pact because they believed no one would take them seriously if they were to come forward about Weber.

“This is a situation where priests don’t have to be violent, they don’t have to use physical force, they just abuse their power and position for devoutly Catholic children,” Arbour said.

The dates of John Doe’s alleged abuse overlap with the time that the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s bishop was Joseph Sullivan, who was also accused of sexually abusing multiple boys during his tenure as bishop. Baton Rouge’s current bishop, Michael Duca, has apologized in the past for a “culture of silence and secrecy” in how the Catholic Diocese previously handled disclosures of abuse. 

In John Doe’s case, she said he never reported his abuse to the diocese until filing the lawsuit. The suit accuses the diocese of negligence and vicarious liability and says John Doe has suffered psychological, emotional and physical injuries from the abuse. He has requested a jury trial and an amount of money that will “fully compensate” those injuries, the lawsuit states.
Rev. John A. Weber

Name: John A. Weber
Age: Died in 2000 at age 81
Position: Priest in Diocese of Baton Rouge, Archdiocese of New Orleans
Served where: St. Isidore the Farmer in Baker (1960s); St. Theresa of Avila in Gonzales; Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin in Plattenville; Holy Trinity in New Orleans; St. Ann in Morganza; St. Eloi in Theriot; St. Rita in New Orleans
Ordained: 1945
Estimated time of abuse: 1940s
Assignment at time of abuse: Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary, Plattenville
Number of allegations: Unclear
Date of abuse: 1956
Allegation received: Diocese of Baton Rouge reported an allegation received in 1996. Archdiocese of New Orleans also reported an allegation received in 2005.
Lawsuits filed/previous known allegations: Name included on list that Archdiocese of New Orleans released in late 2018
Removed from ministry: Weber retired in 1995, the year before his first allegation of abuse.
Details: Weber transferred to the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1961, when the diocese was created. Both the Diocese of Baton Rouge and Archdiocese of New Orleans have reported allegations against him.