Alleged abusive priest serving in Lafayette

By Claire Taylor
July 29, 2014

Here in the heart of Cajun country, where the first priest sex abuse scandal rocked the Roman Catholic Church faithful in the 1980s, allegations have surfaced that a priest who sexually abused a boy in the 1970s continues to minister in Lafayette.

Two documents from the 1990s uncovered during a recent Minnesota Public Radio investigation allege the Rev. Gilbert Dutel sexually abused a boy in the 1970s while serving at a church in Abbeville. He was also was accused of coercing young men into having sex, the MPR story says.

Both Dutel, who is pastor of St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette, and the Diocese of Lafayette denied the allegations Tuesday.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests issued a statement July 21, following the MPR investigation, urging Diocese of Lafayette Bishop Michael Jarrell to suspend Dutel immediately.

The Diocese of Lafayette, in a written response to The Advertiser's questions about the reports Tuesday, said the "unproven allegations" against Dutel were investigated years ago.

"No new information exists that warrants any action by the Diocese," the statement reads. "In the absence of any contrary information, Father Dutel remains a priest in good standing."

Written questions submitted to Diocese Media Liaison Monsignor Richard Greene by The Daily Advertiser — including requests for the date of the investigation, the name of the investigator and a copy of the report — went unanswered.

Dutel also issued a written statement, noting the allegation of misconduct with a juvenile made 22 years ago was examined by the diocese under then Bishop Harry Flynn.

"Upon completion of the process, it found that the allegation was not credible and that I was innocent. I maintained my innocence then and I maintain my innocence now!" Dutel wrote in an email to The Daily Advertiser.

Dutel is on the Board of Pastors for St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Lafayette. He served from about 1997 to about 2009 at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Scott, which is associated with an elementary school of the same name.

A November 2010 story in The Great Scott Herald publication reports the Saints Peter and Paul Elementary School playground was named "Father Gil's Playground" at the request of an anonymous donor who gave money for the playground equipment.

Both Flynn and his predecessor, Bishop Gerard Frey, have been accused of covering up allegations of priest pedophilia and sex abuse, including transferring accused priests, including the notorious defrocked Gilbert Gauthe, from one church parish to another.

Allegations of abuse by Dutel are chronicled in a June 15, 1992, statement entered into evidence during a lawsuit by the Diocese of Lafayette against its insurers and insurance broker over payment of settlements to abuse victims.

The alleged victim, whose name and address were redacted from the document, said Dutel, a family friend, was serving at St. Theresa Church in Abbeville when he first molested the then 8-year-old boy. The abuse, he said, mostly occurred in the mid-1970s and continued until he was entering high school.

Abbeville attorney Anthony Fontana Jr., who represented priest sex abuse victims in lawsuits against the church, said in a May 4, 1995, sworn affidavit in federal court that he learned in 1987 about allegations of sexual misconduct by Dutel.

Fontana told the Minnesota Public Radio reporters that Dutel "had been accused of coercing young adult men into having sex."

In the affidavit, Fontana said he met with Flynn to discuss the allegations, but Flynn just reassigned Dutel to another church parish.

"Bishop Flynn justified his action on the basis of the drastic shortage of priests that the Diocese was facing and the fact that he was told that Father Dutel was cured," Fontana wrote.

Contacted by telephone Tuesday, Flynn said he was unable to comment at the time because he was entertaining guests.

Fontana's secretary said he was in court Tuesday and unable to comment.

Flynn was brought to the Diocese of Lafayette to replace Bishop Gerard Frey, who led the diocese when the abuse of pedophile priest Gilbert Gauthe became public in 1983. Frey died in 2007.

Flynn's role was supposed to be to heal the wounds caused by the priest pedophile scandal. The MPR investigation alleges Flynn continued the coverup and transfer of accused priests from one church parish to the next. He was transferred to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis where he again was accused of covering up abuse and transferring accused molesters to new churches. He retired in 2008.

In his 1995 affidavit, Fontana alleges other coverups by the Lafayette Diocese. He said then-Bishop Frey promised to immediately suspend another priest after Fontana reported in 1985 the alleged molestation of five sisters in the 1950s. The priest admitted to Fontana that he molested two of the women, he said.

Seven months later the priest was still serving in his parish. When Fontana filed a lawsuit, the priest fled to his native Holland where he allegedly continued to be a priest, Fontana said.

At the 2002 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, church leaders crafted the Charter for the Protection of Children and promised a "one strike and you're out" treatment of abusers, SNAP Director David Clohessy told The Advertiser.

"Obviously this is a violation of that," he said. "And they promised to be open and transparent. This is a violation of that."

Pope Francis in May declared a "zero tolerance" for clergy who abuse children. He said three bishops were under investigation by the Vatican in relation to abuse, news reports said at the time.

The Diocese of Lafayette and its insurers paid about $26 million in claims to 123 victims of 15 priests who served in the Lafayette Diocese between 1950 and 2002, Jarrell said in February 2004.

The first priest sex abuse scandal to surface and gain national attention occurred in the 1980s in the Diocese of Lafayette. Defrocked priest Gilbert Gauthe admitted he molested 39 children at various churches.

About 96 percent of the $26 million in settlements was paid by insurance providers. The Diocese paid more than $947,000 from its general fund, supported by weekly collections from its church parishioners.

That included $24.3 million to compensate victims, $936,727 for victim counseling, $463,081 to treat priests and $282,212 in legal fees, Jarrell reported.


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