Terrebonne Judge: Ex-Altar Boy May See Church's Investigation of Priest He Accuses of Abuse

The Republic
July 10, 2011

HOUMA, La. — Catholic church officials must give a report about sexual abuse allegations against a now retired priest to the lawyer for a former altar boy who is suing him, a Terrebonne Parish judge has ruled.

Attorneys for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux say they will appeal District Judge Timothy Ellender's order to turn over the report about Ettienne LeBlanc.

Jared Ribardi, 28, of Morgan City, who told The Courier that he wanted to be identified, alleges that LeBlanc sexually abused him from 1991 until 1997. He filed a criminal complaint against LeBlanc in 2007, but authorities said they had no evidence to back up the claim and so could not act on it.

The investigator's report could indicate whether church officials knew about allegations against LeBlanc before he was sent to Holy Cross in Morgan City, where Ribardi alleges he was abused.

Ribardi's attorney, Roger Stetter of New Orleans, says the diocese's reluctance to turn it over is part of continued secrecy about abuse in the Catholic Church.

"They have covered up for this priest for 30 years, and they just won't quit," Stetter said. "The church has promised transparency in cases of abuse. Where is the transparency when they will not provide a report from their own investigation concerning LeBlanc's misdeeds and abuse of his ministry?"

Don Richard, one of the lawyers representing the diocese, said the court is not entitled to the report because it was prepared in anticipation of litigation and is exempt from production under civil court rules. But Stetter said the investigation began before the suit was filed.

Ribardi is jailed in Allen Parish. He was found guilty of violating probation on a charge of indecent behavior with a juvenile by living with his grandparents near a Morgan City School. As a convicted sex offender, Ribardi cannot live near a school. At his probation hearing, he said he could not find another place to live.

LeBlanc was placed on administrative leave from his duties as pastor at Houma's Annunziata Church in 2007 after church officials learned of Ribardi's complaint. LeBlanc now lives in a private residence in Westwego. He does not have a listed phone.

According to court papers, the church report includes allegations that LeBlanc sexually assaulted a Nicholls State University student nearly 30 years ago, when LeBlanc was pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas Church on the university grounds in Thibodaux. Friends and relatives of the student, Timmy Folse, who killed himself in 1989, say he told them about LeBlanc's alleged behavior. Folse considered LeBlanc a friend and had sought counseling from him, they told the newspaper.

Folse shot himself June 21, 1989, in New Orleans. He never reported the alleged misdeeds to church officials. His widow, Jane G. Folse, said he was convinced that if he did, the complaint would go nowhere.

But his friend Michael White said he told his former high-school religion teacher of the alleged misconduct. In an interview last week, the teacher recalled telling White that he should go to higher-ups in the church. She said she notified a nun years later.

White emailed Bishop Sam Jacobs on Sept. 20, 2007, after learning LeBlanc had been removed from Annunziata. He informed the bishop of Folse's allegations, stating that he had discussed them many years ago. White, now 52, supplied copies of their email exchange to The Courier.

The bishop answered, "we have hired an investigator independent of this office to look into the matter and to present me whatever evidence of truth he finds so that I can act prudentially," and asked if White would talk to the investigator.

White later emailed back to say that the investigator had interviewed him and another friend of Folse's.


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