Diocese of Baton Rouge announces inquiry into abuse claim against Gonzales church pastor
By Gordon Russell
December 16, 2017
|The Diocese of Baton Rouge is probing a complaint about sexual misconduct by a Gonzales parish priest that allegedly occurred in 1996, a church spokesman said.|
The Diocese of Baton Rouge is investigating a complaint it received last month about sexual misconduct by a Gonzales parish priest that allegedly occurred in 1996, a church spokesman said.
The woman, who alerted church officials Nov. 8 about the alleged abuse by Father Eric Gyan, also recently contacted The Advocate about the case. After being contacted by the newspaper, the diocese late Saturday issued a news release saying that Gyan was the subject of the complaint and that it has begun an inquiry.
The complaint is the first one the diocese has received about Gyan, according to the statement. Gyan, who was ordained as a priest more than three decades ago, is now pastor of St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Gonzales.
So far, the diocese’s investigation “has not yielded any cause to remove Fr. Gyan from his current pastoral service,” the statement said, adding that Gyan “has categorically denied the allegation.”
The woman told The Advocate that Gyan forced her to perform sex acts on him on multiple occasions in 1996, when he was the pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Brusly and she was a 10-year-old parishioner there. The abuse occurred when she went to confession to him, according to the woman, who is now 31.
Gyan, who did not return a message from The Advocate, read the diocese’s statement to parishioners at 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday.
The diocese in its statement said it reported the alleged sexual abuse to civil authorities last month, under policies put in place in each Catholic diocese after the abuse scandals that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000s.
Under those policies, church investigators conduct interviews and gather records pertinent to an allegation. They typically turn over their findings to a local independent review board largely comprised of psychologists and other experts outside the employ of the church.
The board has been informed that an investigation is ongoing, the diocese said.
Once the board has reviewed investigators’ findings, it makes a recommendation to the bishop, who then decides whether to suspend the priest’s ministry.
It is unusual for a diocese to announce receipt of a complaint before it reaches the bishop’s desk. It is not clear why the Baton Rouge diocese veered from its usual practice.
The woman — whom the newspaper is not naming because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse — said she told her mother about the abuse at the time. Her mother didn’t believe her, the woman told The Advocate, and then made her 10-year-old daughter apologize to Gyan for what she had said about him.
Not long afterward, the woman said, she was allowed to move out of state to live with her father.
The woman now lives in Colorado. She said she was moved to report the allegation recently after she saw a man on the street who strongly resembled Gyan. She said she searched for information about him online and discovered he is still an active priest.
“I decided to do this because I’m concerned that other children may be in danger, and I want to prevent this from happening to anyone else,” she said.
She said she is estranged from both of her parents, but she provided a reporter a phone number for her father.
Her father told The Advocate that he recalled her complaining long ago of inappropriate behavior on the part of her priest, but said she did not allege sex abuse at the time.
He said he became aware of those allegations only recently, when he was contacted by a church investigator. He said he is skeptical that the allegations are true, but added: “I could be way the hell wrong.”
The Advocate also contacted the woman’s mother, who said “no comment” and abruptly hung up.
She later called back and told The Advocate that she and her daughter had seldom spoken in the last 18 years. She denied that her daughter had told her in 1996 of being abused by Gyan, but said that her daughter had begun "acting out" around that time.
Nonetheless, the mother said she is skeptical of her daughter's claim of abuse.
She also noted that her daughter had recently filed a second complaint about sexual abuse by a Catholic pastor, this one stemming from an even earlier incident in another state.
The woman who says Gyan abused her confirmed that and provided The Advocate with an account of that alleged abuse, which she said is also under investigation in the diocese in question.
Gyan, a native of the Baton Rouge area, has been pastor at St. Theresa of Avila since 2014. His previous assignment was as pastor at St. John the Evangelist in Prairieville. He has also served as parochial vicar at Ascension of Our Lord Church in Donaldsonville and St. Louis King of France Church and St. Aloysius Church in Baton Rouge, according to a 2011 article in the Catholic Commentator. He was also pastor at St. Charles Borromeo in Baton Rouge and St. John the Baptist in Brusly.
The diocese’s statement Friday said that all of the church’s new protocols are being followed in probing the allegation. Under canon law, “trained professional lay persons” were appointed to review the allegations, and their findings, once complete, will be forwarded to the independent review board.
The woman who reported the abuse told The Advocate that after she did so, she was contacted by two people affiliated with the diocese – lawyer Charlie Cusimano, who was assigned to investigate her complaint, and Amy Cordon, the diocese’s victim care coordinator.
Cordon indicated she wanted to arrange a trip to Colorado to meet with the woman, according to a voice message the woman shared with The Advocate. The woman has not yet agreed to the meeting, saying she wanted the officials to explain their agenda first. She said her efforts to seek clarification have so far not yielded results.
The diocese asks that anyone who can assist the diocese with its investigation call Amy Cordon in the diocesan Victim Assistance Office at 225-242-0250.