Newly discovered court records detail church sex-abuse crisis

August 11, 2014

[with video]

Newly discovered court records from the 1990s are giving us a look back at a dark era for the Diocese of Lafayette and the scope of just how many people were involved.

The church sex-abuse crisis has been back in the spotlight, after an in-depth report by Minnesota Public Radio last month. The report opened an old wound in Lafayette, which saw the first cases of priest sex-abuse in the country. When the scandal seemingly passed, federal documents relating to the scandal were unsealed in 1998. Those documents remained boxed-up in a courthouse in Ft. Worth, TX, until now.

KATC and our media partner, The Advocate, had 5 boxes of documents shipped in from Ft. Worth on Friday. The documents detail the Lafayette Diocese's suit against their insurance company in the late 80's. Among the documents are depositions from victims and members of the diocese, psychiatric reports on abusive priests and even personnel files.

One personnel file is a list of 41 priests, and includes basic information like dates of birth and ordination. The file goes one step further with a brief description of each priest. Some of the descriptions include terms like: "known pedophilia (sic)," "suspected of homosexuality," and "effeminent (sic), counseling recommended."

There were also minutes from a diocesan personnel board meeting from February 16, 1977, concerning the re-assignment of certain priests. While the reasons for the changes were not documented, two priests who would later be convicted of child molestion were discussed--Father Lane Fontenot and Father Gilbert Gauthe.

In discussing the placement of Fontenot, the diocese writes: "Because of a recent situation with Father Gilbert Gauthe in St. Mary Magdalen's, we feel that assigning Father Fontenot to Abbeville would not be prudent. (this is strongly felt)."

Gauthe would go on to become the most notorious child molester in the diocese, and one deposition details how a father of one of his victims wanted to kill him. In the deposition, the boy's father said when he heard what Gauthe did to his son, who was an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Iberia, he went to the rectory with a shotgun.

"When Father Gauthe seen me (and my son) and me carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, he left," said the boy's father. "He ran out of the rectory and (another priest) asked me what was going on, and I told him what had happened, and he proceeded to try to calm me down, and he says he would handle it."

Gauthe was moved shortly after that incident to the Henry area in Vermilion parish, where the majority of the lawsuits against him were filed.

The KATC Investigates team is continuing to read over the newly-discovered documents. We've reached out to the Diocese of Lafayette for comment on a number of issues relating to the case, but most requests have gone unanswered.


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