Teen, Mother Testify Boy Was Raped by Priest

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
June 14, 1996

Without tears and in language nearly clinically flat, a 19-year-old Houma youth told a hushed jury that years ago a Catholic priest raped him on the priest's bed as the child of 8 watched the man's face in the headboard mirror.

The story, prosecutors have said, is the heart of their aggravated rape case against the Rev. Robert Melancon, accused of molesting the altar boy between 1985 and 1991, when he was pastor of Annunziata Parish in Houma.

Melancon, 60, faces life in prison if convicted.

A year after Melancon was arrested, the youth and his mother told their stories in public and under oath Thursday before a Catholic community divided over what to make of the charge against "Father Mel."

Dozens of courtroom spectators strained to hear their stories and many took notes. Most were women from Houma and surrounding communities who knew Melancon or other principals.

Late Thursday afternoon, defense attorney George Simno opened a long, careful cross-examination, probing for inconsistencies in the youth's story.

But the youth held to the main points, claiming almost all details were "fuzzy" - even of hundreds of alleged rapes.

"My memory's not that good," he told Simno. "Things run together a lot. Feelings all run together a lot."

Combined with his mother's testimony, the picture that emerged was of a shy, chubby 8-year-old with few friends on whom Melancon showered special affection: trips to McDonald's, gifts of crayons and a California Raisin cassette tape, a new shirt and a special invitation from Annunziata's new pastor to become the parish's youngest altar boy.

Although the youth had an altar boy brother two years older, Melancon frequently called the house asking for the younger boy to assist at special services, the mother and son testified.

Often he would pick the child up himself and drop him off later, they said. The prosecution contends the molestation usually occurred after those events because they provided the priest legitimate reasons for the youth's presence.

It was after services like that, the youth said, that Melancon took him up to his rectory bedroom, which he described in detail.

Once, when he was about 8 or 9, they lay on Melancon's queen-sized bed watching TV while Melancon rubbed the boy's stomach, the youth said. At another session not much later Melancon allegedly advanced to kissing him. And then one day Melancon sodomized him.

"He pushed my face into a pillow, I remember not being able to breathe," he said. "I remember crying." He said he could see Melancon's face in a headboard mirror and saw there "a kind of evilness, like enjoyment."

Acts like that continued two and three times a month for five years, until Melancon's departure for another parish, the youth said.

Yet he told no one, not even the pediatrician to whom his mother brought him for unexplained rectal bleeding. The doctor, prosecutors have said, found some tissue damage but attributed it to constipation.

He said he was "scared" to tell his parents. "I didn't know if they would believe me," he said. "My parents always told me priests were special; they were God's workers."

But a year after Melancon left Annunziata, the boy told a family friend he had been raped, although he did not say by whom. She took him immediately to the Annunziata rectory to tell his story to a deacon.

He swore the man to secrecy and told him the whole story.

"I didn't expect him to tell anyone, but I guess I hoped he would," the youth said.

The story surfaced in April 1995 when "I had a little nervous breakdown" that required eight days in a psychiatric hospital, the youth said. And it was also about then, he said, a few weeks short of his 18th birthday, that he told his mother he is gay.

Since then the family, once lifelong Catholics who went to Mass as a family at Annunziata, have stopped going to church regularly.

"I just don't believe in church anymore," the youth said.

Sunday night they settled an $800,000 civil suit against the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, but they want the criminal case against Melancon to proceed.

"I should have the peace of mind knowing that he can't do this to anyone else," the youth said.


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