Valley Priest Had History of Sexual Abuse, Jurors Told

By Jim Walsh
The Arizona Republic [Arizona]
October 27, 2005

Two men in their 30s from Indiana suffered silently for years, but the hurt spilled out as they testified in Maricopa County Superior Court against a former west Valley priest accused of molesting six Arizona boys.

A 38-year-old father from South Bend, Ind. testified that Rev. Paul LeBrun first fondled him when he was 13 years old, under the ruse that he was checking for a hernia.

"I wish he would do what he taught us to do, to be accountable for his actions, to be truthful," said the witness, whose identity is being withheld because he is a sex crimes victim.

LeBrun is one of only two priests to go on trial on sex charges in the Valley. The other, Father Karl LeClaire, pleaded guilty last November to lesser charges before the second day of his trial and there was no testimony by the victim. He was given a year in jail in January.

LeBrun, 49, is accused of eight counts of sexual conduct with a minor and five counts of child molestation. The allegations stem from his relationships with six Arizona boys between 1986 and 1991. Allegations in Indiana surfaced after he was transferred to Arizona. He has not been charged with any crimes in Indiana because of the statute of limitations.

The victims were 11 to 13 years old and the crimes occurred while LeBrun worked as a youth minister at St. John Vianney Church in Avondale and Blessed Sacrament Church in Tolleson, prosecutors said.

"It's very hard to comprehend how someone can establish a trusting relationship with a child and then betray it," Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said in opening statements before Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen in Mesa.

"Each of them had no father figure to go to," she said of the victims. "Each of them went to Father LeBrun."

But defensive attorney Kenneth Huls said LeBrun is a victim of a "witch hunt" that swept the nation during the priest abuse scandal, that the allegations are more than a decade old, that three Arizona victims have felony convictions and two hope to win millions in a civil suit.

"This case is about scandal in the Roman Catholic Church, this case is about greed, this case is about false accusations," Huls said.

Working with youth was LeBrun's mission, the defense attorney said, but it also exposed him to potential allegations of sexual abuse.

"Paul LeBrun unwittingly put a large target on his back," Huls said.

McClennen allowed four Indiana victims to testify so prosecutors can attempt to prove that LeBrun has a "sexual propensity" to abuse young boys.

LeBrun was never charged with any crimes in Indiana because the statute of limitations had expired. A second witness, a 34-year-old man originally from South Bend who now lives in Florida, described in graphic detail how LeBrun abused him repeatedly as a 14-year-old boy on youth group trips to Ft. Myers, FL. and on a houseboat on the Mississippi River in Iowa.

LeBrun was the cool priest everyone trusted, the second witness said.

"He was almost like a super hero. You could tell him anything and he wouldn't pass judgment on you," said the witness, now the father of three children.

But all that changed for the witness when LeBrun insisted on sharing a bed with him at a condominium in Fort Myers and molested him repeatedly.

The second witness cried as he described why he never told his parents about the abuse on either trip.

"By telling my parents, I would have risked more than losing my faith. I would have taken my family's faith," he testified. "I don't think we'd be here. I think my family would have taken the matter into their own hands."

The 34-year-old man said he no longer attends church regularly, but his children are baptized Catholics.

"It's very difficult for me to attend Mass without being reminded of him," he said.

The witness said he will only sue LeBrun or the church if LeBrun is found not guilty by jurors. "In order to heal, all the people who thought I was a liar need to know I was telling the truth."

The witness glared at LeBrun after he finished testifying and walked past the priest to leave the courtroom.

LeBrun is still a member of the Holy Cross order, but can no longer carry out priestly duties, said Dick Nussbaum, an attorney for the Priests of Holy Cross. Testimony is expected to resume Monday and the trial is expected to last about four weeks.

Supporters of LeBrun angered one Indiana victim by sending letters to South Bend parishoners soliciting money for LeBrun's defense, The South Bend Tribune reported.


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