Man Says Colebrook Priest Abused Him in the 1960s

By Kathryn Marchocki
New Hampshire Union Leader
May 19, 2010

Plymouth resident John Labbe said the Rev. George St. Jean sexually assaulted him about 100 times as a boy growing up in Colebrook in the 1960s, often while the two sat in the backseat of the family car while Labbe's father shuttled the priest to Masses, a civil complaint filed yesterday alleges.

"God wants this," St. Jean told Labbe more than once, the suit claims.

St. Jean, who is dead, was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman Catholic religious order that assigned St. Jean to the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in Colebrook. St. Jean also received permission to minister in the Manchester diocese and served at St. Brendan Church in Colebrook, the suit alleges.

Labbe, 53, who is married and works in the construction industry, filed suit in Hillsborough County Superior Court North against the diocese and the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C.

In the suit, Labbe claims St. Jean began abusing him when he was nine years old in 1965. The alleged abuse progressed from fondling to sodomy and continued until 1969 when Labbe "got older and told the priest to stay away from him," Labbe's attorney Jessica D. Arbour of the Miami law firm of Mermelstein & Horowitz said.

More than once, St. Jean allegedly told Labbe not to tell anyone about the alleged abuse because it was "God's will," the suit claims. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages.

"For John, this is about accountability and responsibility more than anything else," Arbour said in a telephone interview. "If it comes down to money, I'm happy to let a jury decide what ... his childhood and his life are worth."

The state Attorney General's Office last year released documents that, for the first time, publicly named St. Jean as among 27 clerics against whom child sexual abuse complaints had been received.

A complaint was brought against St. Jean on Dec. 3, 2003 and alleged he sexually abused a minor between 1960 and 1961 in the Lowell, Mass., area, according to the state's files.

Labbe's suit claims St. Jean sexually abused many other children while serving in New Hampshire and the diocese and Oblate order knew or should have known it.

When Labbe first reported his alleged abuse to the Oblate order in February 2008, "they never told him anything about there being other victims," Arbour said.

The Diocese of Manchester referred news media inquires to attorney Gordon J. MacDonald of Nixon Peabody law firm in Manchester.

"Because a lawsuit apparently has been filed, I'm not going to comment on this case at this time," MacDonald said.

The suit alleges the diocese and Oblate order were negligent and failed to protect Labbe.

The Rev. Joseph H. Hitpas, treasurer of the U.S. Province of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said he could not respond to the suit without seeing it. Hitpas confirmed St. Jean died Sept. 19, 1982, in Lowell.

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