Man suing Diocese of Lafayette over alleged 1960s sex abuse can move forward with case, court says

Advocate [New York NY]

May 6, 2022

By Katie Gagliano

The Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has given the green light for a lawsuit to continue against the Diocese of Lafayette over alleged sexual abuse from the 1960s.

On Tuesday, a panel of three appellate judges issued a ruling denying an appeal from the diocese that sought to halt the lawsuit, agreeing with 15th Judicial District Court Judge Laurie Hulin’s January decision that the case could move forward.

“We find no error in the trial court ruling,” the appeal court judges wrote.

The issue hinged on whether the time frame for the victim to file suit had passed.

In filings in the case, attorneys for the plaintiff, identified only as Sam Doe, argued the case is covered under a bill signed into law in June, which removed the time limit for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits and provided past victims whose cases had been previously timed out a three-year window to file claims.

Though his case was first filed in July 2020, they argued the law would retroactively apply to Doe’s claim because it was in process when the law took effect.

An attorney for the diocese argued that based on the law’s language, the Legislature’s amendment should be interpreted only to extend the filing deadline for victims who had claims applicable under the original 1993 law, which Doe did not, court filings said.

Hulin disagreed in her judgment.

Doe claims in his lawsuit that the Rev. Stanley Begnaud sexually abused him in the early 1960s when Doe was 16 and  attending St. Stephen Catholic Church in Berwick.

Doe alleges that Begnaud offered him a ride home from a school bonfire, at which time Begnaud sexually assaulted him. The lawsuit says Begnaud first rubbed the teen’s leg before moving to touch his genitals while driving, then pulled the vehicle over and proceeded to forcefully kiss the teen. He then laid on top of Doe and rubbed his genitals against the teen’s.

“Doe was initially shocked and frozen by these unwanted advances, but then screamed to Begnaud to get off of him,” in addition to slapping Begnaud’s hand away during the initial unwanted touching, the suit says.

Doe later jumped from the vehicle once Begnaud began driving again and walked home. The lawsuits states Doe became fully aware of the sexual abuse he suffered under Begnaud in October 2019, after years of therapy with a psychologist.

Doe’s attorneys claim the diocese is liable for the sexual abuse he suffered and the resulting mental and emotional struggles he endured because the diocese acted negligently by not protecting Doe and others from Begnaud.

“Begnaud was a diseased pedophile who raped and sexually assaulted many young boys, was secretly labeled a ‘known pedophile’ by the Diocese of Lafayette, yet he was moved frequently throughout the various parishes within the Diocese of Lafayette,” the lawsuit says.

The attorneys presented a number of church documents, including policies or writings around the handling of child sexual abuse claims and the treatment of victims, as supporting their claims.

Outside the diocese’s arguments against the timing of the lawsuit, the diocese’s attorney also argued against the use of “ecclesiastical guidance” as a basis for establishing liability in a civil court and claimed this infringed on the church’s religious liberty under the U.S. Constitution.

Begnaud was included on the diocese’s 2019 list of priests credibly accused of sexual assault. Begnaud died in 1985.