|Houma Priest Accused of Sexual Activity with Child
By John DeSantis
August 27, 2007
Houma — The pastor of a Houma Catholic church was placed on leave due to an allegation of improper sexual activity with a child.
The Rev. Etienne LeBlanc, 64-year-old pastor of Annunziata Church, has denied the allegations, Bishop Sam Jacobs, spiritual leader of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, told parishioners during Masses held Saturday and Sunday.
An investigation by church authorities is under way and will include a medical and psychological evaluation. LeBlanc, Jacobs said, is formally on administrative leave.
The bishop's words to parishioners, as well as a statement issued by the diocese, were sparse. They said, however, that the allegation did not involve anyone connected to Annunziata.
Louis Aguirre, spokesman for the diocese, said no further information would be provided, at least for now.
"The bishop explained that the Catholic Church takes these allegations very seriously," Aguirre wrote in the prepared statement. "He went on to say that although Father LeBlanc denies any impropriety, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux must begin an investigation under the guidelines of the Diocesan Policy for the Protection of Children and Young People. ...
"The bishop said this action does not constitute a judgment on the diocese's part. The bishop asked, in God's name, that parishioners pray for the church, Father LeBlanc and anyone who is hurting because of this sad and painful situation."
Aguirre did not say whether the impropriety was alleged to have occurred recently or earlier in LeBlanc's career. He also did not say whether law-enforcement authorities were involved or notified of the allegation. In a case of alleged sexual abuse, diocesan policy says only first reporters — people like teachers and psychologists — identified under the law are required to notify civil authorities.
Church officials said they are not trying to hide anything but are attempting in all ways to comply with their written policy for dealing with such allegations when they occur.
Approximately 1,400 families are registered as parishioners at Annunziata.
The announcements by the bishop took parishioners off guard. There had been no warning that their spiritual leader, whom they described as popular and well-liked, would be at the center of such a storm.
"I am surprised and shocked," said Ronnie Chiasson, a Houma business owner active in church affairs, who learned of the allegation at a Sunday-night Mass. LeBlanc married Chiasson and his wife, Pat. "I am having a hard time. Not knowing makes it difficult to understand because we don't know."
While parishioners expressed such difficulty with comprehension, they also said they understood the bishop's stated need to withhold further information, particularly in the event that the allegation is not true.
LeBlanc, a native of the St. Charles Community between Thibodaux and Raceland, was ordained in 1971 at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Port Sulphur. He published a young peoples' liturgy book titled "How Green is Green" in 1972. LeBlanc served as a deacon at St. Francis de Sales in New Orleans and St. Patrick in Port Sulphur, as well as Our Lady of Good Harbor in Buras.
His first assignment as a priest was at St. Peter's Church in Reserve. He then served at Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego. Assignments as pastor followed at St. Thomas Aquinas in Thibodaux and Holy Cross Church in Morgan City.
LeBlanc served as a part-time associate pastor at St. Hilary Church in Mathews for part of 2001 and then, from 2001 through 2004, as administrator of Holy Family Church and then at St. Eloi Church in Dularge. His service as pastor at Annunziata began in 2004.
Jacobs will serve as temporary administrator for Annunziata.
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