Documents suggest diocese may have known of sexual misconduct earlier

By Ken Stickneyk
August 23, 2014

Gilbert Gauthe arrives at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse in 2000. Gauthe, a former Lafayette Diocese priest, pleaded guilty in 1985 to molesting dozens of children.

Public scandal surrounding priest molestation cases in the mid-1980s struck the Diocese of Lafayette at a time when it was woefully ill-prepared to deal with it.

But court papers reviewed by The Daily Advertiser in recent weeks suggest diocesan leaders should have seen trouble coming years earlier.

Those papers were made known recently after Minnesota Public Radio investigated sex abuse in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, uncovering a wealth of documents about numerous priests in the Diocese of Lafayette who had been accused of sexual misconduct since the 1950s. The link between the dioceses — what led MPR to the court files stored in Texas — was Bishop Harry Flynn, who served in both dioceses.

The court papers, which included legal depositions of key diocesan figures in Lafayette, suggest strongly that former Bishop Gerard L. Frey, who served from 1973-1989, lacked the knowledge, savvy and judgment he needed to address sexual misconduct among his priests. One psychologist who worked with the diocese said simply, “It appeared to me that Bishop Frey was hit with a truck.”

But Frey wasn’t alone. Depositions show little communication between diocesan clergy and the diocesan leadership about the onset of trouble. The bishop and clergymen testified under oath that they had little knowledge of myriad, isolated incidents from around the diocese, although the legal papers suggest otherwise in many cases. Priests’ files reportedly contained few specifics, diocesan leaders testified, perhaps intentionally.

One Lafayette priest whose file came to public attention from the recent MPR reports was the Rev. Gilbert Dutel, pastor of St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church in Lafayette. Dutel was accused by a victim of pedophilia in the 1970s during a 1992 deposition revealed in the papers reviewed by MPR. Bishop Michael Jarrell defended Dutel last month, and a diocesan spokesman said Dutel had never been treated for pedophilia.

But in a diocese where its leadership’s actions concede that at least 15 priests “offended against minors,” diocesan records seem to indicate that, officially, few if any priests were treated for pedophilia. A March 29, 1995, deposition of Monsignor Henri Alexandre Larroque, vicar general for the diocese, seems to explain why, as Larroque told an attorney that two certain offenders, Gilbert Gauthe and Robert Limoges, were officially listed by the diocese as leaving their work for “reasons of health”:

Q: “Is it safe to say that when allegations of sexual misconduct are made the personnel file would reflect, if it reflected anything, that a person went on leave for reasons of health?”

A: “Yes.”

The legal morass that beset the diocese lasted through the 1980s and the 1990s and continues today, even as the number of child molestation incidents likely began to wane nationally, some experts say. The human costs to families and children, though, continue to last. Supporters of abuse victims have demanded that the Lafayette diocese release the names of all known abusers, especially those for whom the diocese made payments. The diocese declines.

Jarrell, in answer to written questions from The Daily Advertiser, confirmed that seven offenders are dead, five live outside the diocese and three within. Of those who left the diocese, he conceded, “Monitoring their activities is practically impossible.” If cases involving those priests who left the diocese were not handled in criminal court, the former priests are not required to register as sex offenders.

Fifteenth District Attorney Mike Harson said he will not prosecute the cases unless victims come forward.

That position in Lafayette has angered advocates for abuse victims, including David Clohessy, director of the national organization, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — SNAP.

Clohessy contends that the U.S. Catholic bishops are bound by their own rules in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved in Dallas in 2002, that demand transparency when dealing with cases involving priests who molest children.

“They are obligated by their own rules,” he said last week, calling it a “laughable contention” that dioceses should not release the names of its own offenders.

“How do they explain their 30 colleagues who released the names? I don’t know a single one who has been sued by a priest,” he said.

At the least, Clohessy said, the diocese should release the names of the deceased offenders as a means of bringing closure to their victims.

Court records The Daily Advertiser reviewed, including an affidavit by the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, former secretary-canonist at the Vatican Embassy, who worked closely on the Lafayette cases, included these priests, some of whom have already been exposed or cited in other court action or court documents:

• Gilbert Gauthe, whose sexual crimes began a decade before he was finally suspended for sexual misconduct. He admitted to raping or sodomizing 37 children.

• Lane Fontenot. The Eunice native was ordained after warnings from his seminary. He served in Gueydan, New Iberia, Opelousas, Baldwin and at Our Lady of Fatima in Lafayette. He was suspended from the priesthood in 1984 for molesting a child and later served time in Washington state for molestation.

• Robert Limoges. Limoges, from Quebec Province, was accused of illicit sexual contact in February 1983. He was accused of fondling an adolescent in Eunice. No charges were pressed because he promised to undergo treatment. Doyle wrote that action was taken with Limoges after the Gauthe case became public.

• David Primeaux. He was accused of molesting as many as 15 children, although his record extended back to his time working with seminarians at St. Benedict’s in 1978-80. Primeaux committed suicide in 2012.

• Stanley Begnaud. Begnaud, long dead, was a “known pedophile,” according to information cited by Doyle.

• Lloyd Hebert. “The documents indicate that this priest had a 25-year history of pedophilia,” Doyle said in his affidavit. Frey testified in a deposition that Hebert was suspended from the priesthood.

• Harry Quick. A New Orleans native, he was assigned to churches in Lake Charles, Jennings, Evangeline, Eunice, Duson and at the Lafayette Charity Hospital. He left the priesthood ostensibly “for reasons of health.” Quick, long dead, admitted in 1977 to molestation of a child and was sent away for study, according to an affidavit. He was later named in another molestation case.

• John Anthony Mary Engbers, accused in court documents of molesting young girls in the Vermilion Parish community of Louisa as early as the 1950s. He was stationed in New Iberia, Lake Charles, Lake Arthur, Eunice, Louisa, Gueydan, Mermentau and Leroy. He left Louisiana in the 1980s when accusations arose and returned to his native Holland.

• Aldeo Fernand Gilbert. Gilbert, a New Hampshire native, operated in relative anonymity in small parishes from 1943 to 1968 when Bishop Maurice Schexneyder removed him as a priest after accusations that the priest molested in Gilbert’s vocation clubs. He had served in Crowley, Ville Platte, and was the first pastor at St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Abbeville. He was listed as being on sick leave when he was removed.

• Court statements also said Frey was questioned about Valerie Pullman, of Elton, a pastor who at one time headed up the diocesan efforts with black Catholics. Frey confirmed knowing about the accusations.

Court papers suggest that the diocese was aware of trouble long before Gauthe was broadly exposed in 1983. Doyle suggested in his affidavit that Gauthe’s problems began to be known to the diocese as early as 1973, after a sexual assault on a child in Broussard. Yet, he said, because of poor record-keeping and a lack of communication among the hierarchy and the priests, even supervising priests did not always know if priests under their direction had had sexual problems.

One uncovered deposition, taken in 1991, came from a parent of an altar boy in New Iberia. The father said that his son, an altar server, returned home one Sunday around 1976, drunk and upset, because Gauthe had given him wine to drink before Mass and had attempted to fondle him on the altar. The boy’s father said he thought about the matter briefly, then headed to the rectory armed with a double-barrel shotgun. When he entered the rectory, the father said, Gauthe fled the building, leaving a second, baffled priest in the rectory with the parent.

In 1976, the record shows, complaints about Gauthe surfaced at his church in Abbeville. He was transferred to a remote church in Henry. In a deposition, Larroque said there was no close supervision of Gauthe from the chancery between that Abbeville assignment in 1976 and 1983, when the breadth of Gauthe’s crimes began to surface.

Yet, there were distress signals sent to the chancery. In 1980, parishioners in Henry wrote to the bishop about Gauthe, complaining not of child sex abuse but of strange behavior. Some of the boys in Henry would hang out at the priest’s home, even sleeping over, but eventually only boys from Gauthe’s former assignment in Abbeville would come to the house. They would hang out at his home even when he wasn’t there, parishioners said — unsupervised. The priest would give out cigarette money. “Father even took an Abbeville boy out of school three times to go help him fix up his camp,” the letter writer said. A Clergy Personnel Advisory Board received the letter and recommended that the vicar for clergy address the complaints with Gauthe.

In 1977, the diocese’s personnel board records from Feb. 15 show from its minutes that concerns were raised about both Gauthe and Fontenot in regard to an assignment to Abbeville. Reading between the lines, Doyle said, it was obvious that church leaders didn’t want to send Fontenot to replace Gauthe because of the nature of the accusations against Gauthe and Fontenot’s reputation.

Yet, Doyle noted in his affidavit, there was no discussion of the diocese removing either man from the ministry. In an aside, Doyle wrote in the affidavit, “Had either or both been accused of stealing money I wonder what action would have been taken?”

That lack of communication — stealth, some say — within the Catholic Church and the Lafayette diocese is what seems to keep victim advocates fired up. Barb Dorris, victim outreach officer for SNAP, herself the victim of sexual abuse by a priest in the St. Louis area, said last week that research shows it is very difficult for victims to come forward. She said when churches applaud accused pastors — St. Edmond’s parishioners gave Dutel a standing ovation after the bishop defended him last month — it reinforces the message “that people in power will favor the predator, not the child.” (Dutel was accused, but maintains his innocence.)

Dorris said her own abuser was her best friend’s uncle. She was 6 when the abuse started, she said, and never dared tell her parents. After all, the priest had told her he was sent by God because she was an evil child.

“When he raped me, I knew I had done wrong,” she said. “There’s no way I would have gone home and told my mother, ‘Hey Mom, I’m an evil child.”

Dorris remains a committed Catholic, she said, but none of her six children participate in the church. She said they don’t trust a church that protects abusers.

Tom Plante, a psychologist at the University of Santa Clara who treats child molestation offenders, said the tempest that toppled the Lafayette diocese came at a time when molestations by priests were actually declining. He said data — more reliable now — shows that nowadays priests are no more likely to molest children than representatives of any other profession. It was accepted in the 1970s and ’80s that offenders could be treated and returned to duty.

“In hindsight, this was idiotic,” he said, “but at the time it seemed like the thing to do.”

In fact, child molesters differ and some can respond to treatment, he said. Some are serial predators. Others select children because they are easy victims: they have one victim, feel remorse, feel suicidal. Some can be treated.

“Not that you would ever want to put them back in the ministry,” he said. “You don’t.”

Plante said reforms such as the 2002 charter have created more barriers to predators and have enabled dioceses to do a better job of excluding predators.

Maureen Fontenot, director of human resources for the Diocese of Lafayette, said the diocese has been aggressive in promoting a safe environment, screening offenders, training children to recognize predatory behavior by adults and encouraging victims to report. She said priests, teachers and other employees who have been told about circumstances of abuse have come forward to report it since the Safe Environment guidelines were put in place. Civil authorities are informed when complaints about sexual abuse from any corner are reported, she added.

In total, she said, some 45,000 people in the diocese — clergy, employees, volunteers — have been trained in Safe Environment.

But the more things change, the more they may seem the same. Monsignor Richard Greene, who has graciously relayed the bishop’s written responses to The Daily Advertiser’s written questions, served on the personnel board that agonized over the assignments of Gauthe and Fontenot in 1977. Monsignor Henri Alexandre Larroque, deposed frequently as the representative of the beleaguered diocesan chancery in the 1980s and 1990s, remains at the chancery — as vicar general.

In response to The Daily Advertiser’s written questions, Bishop Jarrell said if minors report sexual abuse to him, he would report the accusations to police.

“That is what the Charter calls for,” he said. “In my 21 years as a Bishop I have never received a complaint from a minor. Usually complaints come from adults through their lawyers, and everyone has the right to report to police.”

Dorris said it’s unusual for minors to report sex abuse crimes. The average age for victims to come forward is in their 40s, she said, adding that people in authority should expect more victims to come forward in time.

“It’s a terrible burden for the victims to carry the secret,” Dorris said. “As soon as you tell, life gets better.”

Bishop Michael Jarrell said he has scheduled a meeting with his confidential Review Board, which can advise the bishop on matters such as accusations of priest molestation cases. In answer to a written question from The Daily Advertiser, the bishop said, “I do have a meeting with the Review Board in the near future.” The bishop had suggested July 30 that he might seek a meeting with the board after a 1992 allegation against the Rev. Gil Dutel, pastor of St. Edmond Roman Catholic Church. The bishop has said he would not reopen that investigation.



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