Priest Suspended from Ministry for Prior Sexual Offense; Aschout/foner/houweb

Associated Press State & Local Wire
July 2, 2002

A priest in the Houma-Thibodaux diocese was suspended from the ministry for a single offense of improper touching of an older teenager.

Bishop Michael Jarrell suspended Father Alexander Francisco, associate pastor of St. Bernadette Church in Houma, Monday for the incident that occurred "a number of years ago," Louis Aguirre, director of communications for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said Tuesday.

When Jarrell was first informed of the incident, the victim and parents requested only that he provide psychological treatment for the priest. They did not take the matter to civil authorities, Aguirre said.

Francisco was treated and approved to return to the ministry by a committee of six lay persons. No further incidents had been reported, the diocese release said.

Parishioners learned of the suspension at a forum Monday which had been organized by a church volunteer group to discuss the national scandal of sexual impropriety among priests. They did not expect that one of their own would be affected by the new "zero tolerance" policy.

"I was shocked," parishioner Robert Robichaux said. "He did an excellent job. This is somebody we would confess to."

The suspension decision is in accordance with rules approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 14. The terms of the charter require that even in these circumstances the offender must be removed from the ministry, the release said.

The victim and the parents have requested that details of the incident be kept confidential.

Francisco does not plan on rejoining the ministry. "He has expressed he wants to be laicized," Aguirre said, referring to the process by which someone is removed from the clergy. This process has to be approved by the Vatican, Aguirre said.

Francisco had been serving as associate pastor at St. Bernadette Church since Dec. 1999. He served at the St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in 1991 when he came to Houma from his native country, the Philippines. He then went to Holy Cross in Morgan City for two years.

In 1994, Francisco served as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as chaplain at Thibodaux General Hospistal and Catholic Student Center. From 1997 to 1999, he was the pastor at St. Bridget's Church and was pastor at St. Lawrence in Chacahoula from February to Dec. 1999, diocese records show.

Francisco developed a free lunch program at Nicholls State University in 1996.

Aguirre said Francisco was no longer in the diocese and could not be reached for comment.


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