Men Tell of Alleged Abuse by Priest
They feel vindicated after LeBrun conviction

By Gwen O'Brien
South Bend Tribune
November 19, 2005

When an Arizona jury found former Little Flower Catholic Church pastor the Rev. Paul LeBrun guilty Thursday of six child sex crime charges, four men who grew up in South Bend breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The men came forward with their own stories of abuse by LeBrun in a September 2002 Tribune article.

They were part of an Indiana State Police investigation into the then-46-year-old Holy Cross priest, but their cases were nearly 20 years old and no longer could be prosecuted. The alleged abuse happened before 1988, and Indiana law gives an accuser five years to come forward.

The Tribune printed their stories but did not reveal their identities.

The men came to The Tribune in hopes that more recent victims might emerge. They did, but not in Indiana.

Nearly 2,000 miles away, at least two Phoenix-area newspapers printed abbreviated versions of the Tribune's story. After reading it, some men went to authorities with allegations that LeBrun molested them while he served at two churches from 1986 to 1993 as a youth pastor.

In addition, Indiana State Police alerted Arizona officials to another man who had gone to Holy Cross officials in 1999 with accusations of abuse by LeBrun from the late 1980s. The stage was set for the eventual Arizona trial that would

include six men whose accusations led to 13 sex-related counts against LeBrun.

Now that LeBrun has been convicted, the four men in the original 2002 Tribune article are speaking on the record for the first time.

Jim Prendergast, 34, called Thursday "a great day." An Arizona jury had found LeBrun guilty on three counts of sexual conduct with a child and three counts of child molestation.

"Paul was basically my bad dream that wouldn't go away, and now he's going away for a long time, and I'm real happy about that," he said Friday.

Prendergast says LeBrun first molested him when he was 9 years old.

"The first night I met him, something happened," he recalled.

Prendergast was living with his mother at Carriage House Apartments in Mishawaka. Two doors down were his friends Tomas and Victor Saavedra. It was 1980, and LeBrun was a Holy Cross seminarian who had befriended the Saavedra boys and their mother as she went through a divorce. LeBrun was the boys' counselor.

"Mrs. Saavedra must have been out of town and Paul was baby-sitting. I'm not sure where Victor was. Me and Tomas were there and Paul was drinking alcohol," Prendergast recalled. "I stayed the night in Mrs. Saavedra's bed. I woke up and Paul's got his hands down my pants. I felt completely violated."

Prendergast says there were many other episodes -- more than 10 -- of sexual abuse. He says LeBrun would use excuses to examine his genitals like checking for a hernia or for testicular cancer. Prendergast didn't tell anyone until 2002.

"I wish I (had) stayed away from the guy, but I didn't. I don't know why. My dad wasn't around at the time, and maybe I was looking for a father figure, I don't know," he said.

As a child, Prendergast says he was confused. Many people have said LeBrun had a magnetic personality. Prendergast said the priest had befriended his mother, another single woman. LeBrun also became very close with Prendergast's extended family to the point that he was like a member of the family.

Prendergast and his mother moved to St. Louis in 1984, but they frequently came back to the South Bend area.

"He baptized, married and buried numerous members of my family and I'd come back into town and have to see him," Prendergast said. "It was mine and his little secret and I didn't say anything. I didn't know how to say anything."

Tomas and Victor

Tomas Saavedra, 38, and Victor Saavedra, 37, were dazzled by LeBrun when they were kids. He let them cuss when he counseled them, he drove a "jacked-up Monte Carlo" and told them he was a gang member in his youth.

That's one side of LeBrun they remember.

There was also the side Victor now calls the "evil, cunning, manipulative" side that he says abused him and his brother beginning in 1979. Victor was 11 and Tomas was 12. Their alleged abuse included hernia checks and other fondling incidents.

The brothers testified for the prosecution at the Arizona trial. The judge allowed the testimony even though LeBrun was never charged in Indiana. LeBrun's defense attorney plans to challenge the testimony when he appeals the guilty verdicts.

The Saavedras are glad they could take the stand.

"When I was leaving Arizona (after testifying) I just felt such a relief, that this is over. This is a chapter in my life I can close now. It was a burden off my shoulders," Victor said.

Tomas believes they helped bolster the Arizona cases. The defense had characterized the victims there as less than credible, and greedy. Three of the six Arizona men had felony records and four of them have filed civil lawsuits against the Holy Cross order for damages.

"Because of the testimony that came from Indiana, it allowed the jury to understand that what occurred in Arizona were not first-time experiences but they were, in fact, part of a pattern that Paul began here with us," Tomas said.

LeBrun's apparent pattern in Indiana and Arizona was to win the trust of Catholic single mothers with young sons who were looking for pastoral help. But there's one alleged victim who didn't fit the mold -- Dale Jacquay.


Jacquay, 34, says he doesn't know why LeBrun chose to abuse him.

"I was unlike most of his victims because I didn't come from a broken home, or have a substance abuse problem," Jacquay said.

His parents are still married but no longer regularly attend Mass at Little Flower. They go to another Catholic church, partly because it is painful to be with some parishioners who chose not to believe LeBrun abused their son.

LeBrun served Little Flower twice. He was assistant pastor from 1983 to 1986. He served Arizona churches between 1986 and 1993. He then returned to Little Flower as senior pastor until he left abruptly in 1999.

"He manipulated everybody. To this day he is still manipulating people," said Jacquay, who says LeBrun molested him when he was 14 and 15 years old in 1985 and 1986.

Back then, LeBrun was making a name for himself for his work with troubled youths.

"His supporters cite his good works, but I think that his good deeds are merely part of the manipulation," said Jacquay, who didn't tell his parents until 2002.

"He had me convinced that nobody would believe me."

Thursday's verdict made Jacquay feel like the jury believed his testimony and that of others.

"Going in there and sitting in front of all those people and strangers and telling them a story I was unable to tell the people closest to me my entire life was one of the hardest things I've ever done."

It's also one of the proudest moments in his life, he said.

The Indiana investigation

Indiana State Police Sgt. Don McCay began an investigation into LeBrun after someone called the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office in 2002 with a tip that LeBrun had abused boys.

McCay asked Holy Cross officials for their records and they cooperated. In the files he found the order had spoken in 1999 to Tomas and Victor Saavedra as well as a man in Arizona who claimed LeBrun had abused him in the late 1980s.

After pounding the pavement, McCay found more than five alleged Indiana victims, none of whose alleged incidents of abuse fell within the statute of limitations. Friday night, McCay admitted he has been frustrated.

"You had these individuals who presented clear, concise and convincing information but yet there was nothing directly I could do with it other than to see if there were other folks with similar situations," McCay said.

Instead, on May 30, 2003, McCay escorted two Arizona investigators with an arrest warrant to LeBrun's South Bend home and watched as another trooper arrested him.

"We felt like we were on the way to getting the truth out," McCay said of that day.

Official reaction

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has always said he didn't know about sexual abuse allegations against LeBrun until Holy Cross came to him in 1999. He immediately asked for LeBrun's resignation from Little Flower.

The only comment D'Arcy had Friday, in response to the conviction was: "Let us keep in our prayers all those who have suffered the pain and indignity of sexual abuse and also all those who have inflicted this offense on others."

A secretary at Little Flower referred comment to Holy Cross. Holy Cross issued a statement Thursday that expressed sorrow, concern and prayers to those judged to be victims of LeBrun. The order also acknowledged some believe LeBrun is innocent and himself a victim.

Richard Nussbaum, attorney and spokesman for the Holy Cross, insisted Thursday that LeBrun was not moved from state to state because of allegations of abuse.

Nussbaum acknowledged someone lodged a sexual abuse complaint against LeBrun in 1987 but he said the order could do nothing because it was an anonymous complaint.

Things are handled more aggressively today than in the 1980s, Nussbaum said. If such a complaint were filed against a priest today, Nussbaum said he would be pulled immediately from public ministry.

He says Vatican officials will be notified of the convictions and determine whether LeBrun will be defrocked.

Meanwhile, LeBrun will be sentenced Jan. 13. He faces a minimum of 81 years in prison and a maximum of 111 years.


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