Who Knew What, When?
Bishop, Lawyer for Holy Cross Discuss Lebrun

By Gwen O'Brien
Tribune [South Bend IND]
Downloaded June 8, 2003

SOUTH BEND -- The Holy Cross priest arrested May 30 on a Phoenix felony charge of sexual misconduct with a minor had similar accusations lodged against him here as early as 1987.

The Rev. Paul LeBrun, 47, served at Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend for several years in the 1980s and 1990s.

He left South Bend in 1986 for the Phoenix Diocese, where he worked in two parishes. He returned to Little Flower in 1993, resigning from that post in 1999.

The Congregation of the Holy Cross received sexual abuse allegations about LeBrun in 1987, 1993 and 1998, an attorney for the order, Richard A. Nussbaum II, said Friday.

Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said Saturday that Holy Cross came to him in 1999 with sexual abuse allegations involving LeBrun, who was working in his diocese.

"That was absolutely the first time. I never heard anything like that before that moment," D'Arcy said. "I asked for his resignation as pastor of Little Flower."

According to Nussbaum, who has studied the order's files, there was little the order could do with the 1987 complaint against LeBrun because it was anonymous.

Nussbaum said Holy Cross maintains that LeBrun's moves to Arizona and back to South Bend were not results of allegations surfacing.

1987 complaint

"In 1987, there was what I would call an anonymous discussion that took place between an individual and a member of the Holy Cross order," Nussbaum said.

The Tribune spoke to a South Bend woman last fall who claimed to be the complainant.

In an interview for a Tribune article published Sept. 22, "Betty" said she went to a Holy Cross priest counselor and reported her suspicion that LeBrun fondled her two sons beginning when LeBrun was still a seminarian in the early 1980s.

"Betty" requested that her real name not be published.

The complaint was forwarded to the head of the congregation's Indiana Province.

"In fact, (the complaint) was taken to the provincial and considered as to whether or not there needed to be any follow-up taken," Nussbaum said.

"First of all, (the complaint) was confidential and anonymous, and second of all, there was information that was provided that didn't raise the complaint, at that point, to the level that (the order) felt there was need for further action," Nussbaum said.

Nussbaum said the complainant had the opportunity to take it further.

"There was a request that was made, 'Do you want to do anything further?' and the request was specifically made to not do anything further at that point," Nussbaum said.

1993 complaint

The next complaint was lodged in 1993. Nussbaum said that's when "further discussions" with the original complainant and more than one alleged victim took place. He declined to say whether the complainant and the victims were related to each other.

"Again, the information that was obtained was very sketchy, was not detailed, was inconsistent and there was wavering in terms of backing away from certain statements that were made," he said.

The 1987 and 1993 complaints remained in Holy Cross files until the Rev. Robert Epping, who became first assistant provincial in 1994, discovered them in late 1998, according to Nussbaum. Epping found the complaints after another allegation surfaced.

1998 complaint

"In 1998, there was an allegation that made its way to Father Epping. It didn't come directly to him," Nussbaum said. "It came through other sources."

According to Phoenix officials last week, that complaint came from a man in Arizona who said he was molested by LeBrun on a camping trip as a child.

Nussbaum said Epping conducted an investigation into all the complaints.

D'Arcy said he believes it was Epping who came to him in 1999 with the allegations against LeBrun.

"I asked for and received (LeBrun's) resignation as pastor," D'Arcy said.

According to Nussbaum, "There was a statement that was read to parishioners at that time that (LeBrun) was basically being removed or leaving his position for personal reasons."

Holy Cross officials did not go to civil authorities with the allegations.

"There is no legal obligation under those circumstances for the order to do that," Nussbaum said. "These involved incidences that occurred many, many years before, and there were no recent incidents."

The victims were by then adults and able to contact police on their own, Nussbaum said.

Since 1999

After LeBrun left Little Flower, he apparently went into therapy.

"They (Holy Cross) gave me information of allegations that they were taking seriously and that they were sending him to therapy," D'Arcy said.

The bishop said Holy Cross told him they were sending LeBrun to the Southdown Institute, which is in Canada.

Epping has described Southdown as "a therapeutic facility for priests and religious men and women who deal with all sorts of issues."

D'Arcy said he met with LeBrun after his time at Southdown and that LeBrun requested to return to ministry in the diocese.

The bishop said he not only refused the request, he also removed LeBrun's faculties. LeBrun would not be permitted to distribute Communion, anoint the sick or administer any other sacrament.

D'Arcy said he does not know how LeBrun came to work as a contract chaplain for the Diocese of Gary, serving at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. LeBrun began that job in January 2000.

In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Dallas and created the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document that outlines how the church should address sexual abuse cases. Any priest accused in the past would no longer be able to exercise public ministry.

LeBrun left his job at the jail in July 2002.

The Indiana State Police investigation began in April 2002, after someone called the St. Joseph County prosecutor's office with a complaint against LeBrun.

According to state police Sgt. Don McCay, who leads the still-open investigation, Holy Cross officials cooperated fully with the investigation and opened their records to him.

In October 2002, a man in his 20s told Arizona police that LeBrun had fondled him in October 1991 when he was 12. That is the crime for which LeBrun was charged.

LeBrun was still being held in the LaPorte County Jail late Saturday, awaiting extradition to Arizona.

Martin Kus, LeBrun's attorney, said recently of his client, "He thinks it's a witch hunt and looks forward to facing his accuser."


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