Editorial: Church Must Be Vigilant on Abuse

The Daily Advocate
April 25, 2010

The name seemed destined to resurface. And, amid the recent flurry of accusations that Pope Benedict XVI may have helped conceal reports of sexual abuse of children by priests, there it was Gilbert Gauthe.

Gauthe, once a priest in Acadiana, was to be released Thursday from jail in Galveston County, Texas. He was arrested in April 2008 for violating the Texas sex offender registration law. Fifteen years ago, Gauthe was accused of touching a Texas 3-year-old inappropriately. At that time, he had only recently been released from prison in Louisiana, where he was the epicenter of an earthquake. The Vatican is still feeling aftershocks.

The crimes and allegations involved go back nearly 40 years. The Roman Catholic Church continues to struggle with the effects of the crimes and, in what may be a tougher and more important struggle, its role in hiding them.

Gauthe, now 64, served 10 years of a 20-year sentence beginning in 1985 after pleading guilty to 33 sex-related counts involving 11 Vermilion Parish boys. Gauthe had been a parish priest in Henry.

Before that, he had served in church posts in Iberia and Lafayette parishes. And an allegation against Gauthe surfaced in the Eunice area. As became clear in this and many other cases, church officials dealt with allegations of sexual misconduct by moving priests from one church parish to another, sometimes after whatever treatment might have been available but often not.

We've seen the church improve its policies. We were assured by our own former bishop, Harry Flynn, a specialist brought in to heal the Lafayette Diocese after the Gauthe case, that no parent has to worry about entrusting a child to a priest who had been placed here to hide a sexual misconduct allegation. American bishops made an admirable show of sympathy to the victims of sexual abuse.

But does anyone feel the church has dealt the problem effectively? If so, why do old crimes emerge every year or two to trouble church fathers and members alike? Why doesn't the church just admit that it didn't know what to do about pedophiles no one else did either and that it made serious mistakes? And why not try to defuse the bombs that might still be ticking away?

We suspect the answer is that the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to being a religious institution, is a large and bureaucratic institution, with lawyers and accountants, as well as priests and nuns. Prudent stewardship of church funds requires attention to liability, insurance premiums and other factors involving the bottom line, after all. A bit of stonewalling might seem acceptable, or even required.

We'd suggest that if church leaders allow themselves to become businessmen first, they do lasting harm to their mission and possibly to the souls entrusted to them, as the recent scandals remind us. Again.


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