Priest's Cards Read in Rape Trial

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
June 18, 1996

Three cheery, sexually playful greeting cards a Catholic priest once dashed off to a teen-ager detonated in a Houma courtroom Monday, read aloud 15 years later by a prosecutor driving home the last pieces of evidence in the aggravatedrape trial of the Rev. Robert Melancon.

"I couldn't help laughing at this card and thinking of 'Willy' coming up!" Melancon wrote to a 19-year-old in 1981.

"Willy," the recipient told the jury, was an anatomical pet name that figured in sexual relations between them that had begun when he was 12, and included sodomy by 13.

In another card, its cover featuring several large slices of baloney, Melancon wrote: "I couldn't pass up this card. I thought it really funny." And in another, he asked the recipient to take a half-day off work to accompany him to the doctor: "I would enjoy the ride there and I know Willy would also."

With the recipient, now a man of 34, sitting quietly in the witness stand, Assistant District Attorney Mark Rhodes read the cards in the Terrebonne Parish Courthouse.

Melancon has not denied writing the cards while he was pastor of St. Genevieve Parish in Thibodaux, nor of having years of sexual relations with their recipient.

But he denies that after the relationship ended about 1986, he started another with an 8-year-old boy at his next assignment, Annunziata Parish in Houma.

Prosecutors say he had intercourse with that boy sometimes two and three times a month in the Annunziata rectory, after weddings and funerals between about 1985 and '91.

Melancon, 60, could get life in prison if convicted.

Shortly after prosecutors rested their case after three days of testimony, Melancon's defense attorneys called to the stand a former Houma woman who said that during a 1994 church trip to Florida, Melancon's accuser named another priest as the one who had molested him.

Defense attorney John DiGuilio had briefly re-called the accuser to the witness stand Monday to assert again that he had never named anyone but Melancon as his abuser.

Then moments later, Terri Lynn Campbell, a high school classmate now living in West Virginia, said she remembered lounging around the hotel pool on that trip with Melancon's accuser, then about 17.

The youth was acting "uncomfortable" in the presence of the Rev. Jim Morrison, she said. Morrison had replaced Melancon as pastor of Annunziata three years before, and three years after the abuse had stopped, the state says.

The youth told her Morrison had touched him in an inappropriate way, Campbell said. But she said she did not believe him and did not tell anyone.

Morrison has never been a suspect in the boy's abuse, prosecutors said.

Melancon contends that the youth is lying, having brought the charge last year to get what became an $800,000 civil settlement against the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.

But in many ways two sexual relationships with children have run through Melancon's trial: one, unproven, with the altar boy from Annunziata, and the earlier one, acknowledged, with the man from St. Genevieve in Thibodaux.

Prosecutors have introduced details of that relationship to demonstrate a pattern of conduct by Melancon, and to produce a witness with no economic motive; DiGuilio and defense lawyer George Simno have asked the jury to separate the two.

The Thibodaux man said Monday his relationship with Melancon ended after a dozen years when he turned 24. He married at 30 and has a son.

Sometimes Melancon pursued that relationship with drinks, adult movies and sex at the rectory of St. Bridget's in nearby Shriever, headed by the Rev. Albert Bergeron, the man testified.

Bergeron on Monday corroborated key elements of the man's testimony last week: the presence of adult videos at the rectory, as well as Melancon's access to them.

Bergeron said he "absolutely" did not know Melancon had taken a minor to the empty rectory.

Sometimes, talking with his confessor, "I'd realize how stupid it was" to have the pornography at hand, Bergeron said. He said he would get rid of it, "and then about six months later it would creep up again."

Bergeron pleaded guilty last month to eight counts of false swearing for lying to a grand jury investigating the Melancon case. He has yet to be sentenced and is still assigned to St. Bridget's.

The Thibodaux man testified Monday that his wife discovered his relationship with Melancon when she found the cards.

A network of people sexually abused by priests steered him to a lawyer familiar with such cases, Anthony Fontana of Abbeville.

Fontana told him his claim, by that time in 1993 almost seven years old, had no chance as a civil suit and was too old to prosecute as a crime. But Fontana said he would help him confront the diocese and Bishop Michael Jarrell.

Diocesan officials have said they investigated the man's claim but couldn't confirm it. An evaluation of Melancon at Ochsner Foundation Hospital cleared his return to the ministry, they said.

"We weren't looking for money," the man said. "We just wanted to get (Melancon) removed and get him some help."

The Thibodaux man said the diocese offered him $50,000. He said he wanted only enough for counseling and settled for $30,000, which is exhausted.

As part of the settlement, he and his wife wanted a private meeting with Melancon, who had told the bishop the charge was untrue, and would continue to do so publicly for three more years, until the trial began last week.

Alone with the couple, Melancon "apologized for everything he did to me, other than giving me drinks at an indecent age," the man said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.