Woman Says Lafayette Priest on Diocese List of Accused Sexual Abusers Assaulted Her
By Ashley White
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
April 17, 2019
|Father John deLeeuw, retired from St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, is among 33 priests included on a list of Lafayette clergy identified as having credible accusations of sexual abuse against them. (Photo: Diocese of Lafayette)|
More than 50 years after she was first abused as a little girl in Lafayette by a priest, Nancy told the diocese her story.
She and her six siblings all gave sworn statements to church leaders. Father John deLeeuw, her parish priest, had assaulted her in her family home on Moss Street near St. Leo the Great, she told them. It started when she was in third grade, at about age 7. It didn’t stop until she was in the sixth.
Then, nothing happened. The diocese had promised money, but none came. The church leaders said deLeeuw would be defrocked. She never heard anything.
That was in 2011.
On Friday, Nancy's younger brother sent her a text. He captured a photo of the list released by the Diocese of Lafayette of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, and deLeeuw’s name was on it.
She saw his name and she felt finally vindicated.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this all to come out,” Nancy, now 69, said. "When I first saw the text, I said 'they finally caught the (SOB).' "
Nancy, who asked that her family's name not be revealed to protect their identity, said it's unclear if her accusations or others led to deLeeuw being identified by the diocese. The diocese released names of 33 priests and four deacons, but withheld other significant information, like the nature of abuse allegations, when they were accused and how long they served after they were accused.
The Daily Advertiser reached out to the Diocese of Lafayette, which did not return a request for comment.
The Moss Street house
As long as Nancy can remember, her family was Catholic — not just a member of the religion, but involved in the church. She and her siblings all went to Catholic school in Lafayette at one point or another. They went to Mass every Sunday. Her three brothers were altar boys. Her mother, a tailor, made vestments.
It wasn't unusual for priests from St. Leo to come to the family's Moss Street house. Nancy’s parents often invited them for dinner. They would all sit around a large, round table to eat.
The house was large, easy to roam in, easy to get lost in, Nancy said. DeLeeuw was a frequent guest at the house. He was from the Netherlands and had an accent. Nancy avoided standing close to him when he talked, she said, because of his tendency to spit.
Nancy and one of her sisters would create skits to perform for deLeeuw and the other priests, sometimes to Shirley Temple songs.
In the big family house, away from where her mother could see, deLeeuw would approach 7-year-old Nancy. He unbuttoned her clothes and fondled her, she said. For three years at that big house, deLeeuw kept touching her.
“The type that would make you feel so uncomfortable,” Nancy said, “you don’t know what’s going on.”
But she never told anyone. She said she didn’t think anyone would believe her.
“Children don’t know how to talk about that,” she said.
There were two others priests, Nancy said, who also touched her inappropriately, when she was in her teens during religion class and later in her early 20s. She wrote to two bishops in the mid-1990s about one of the priests. She later reached out to Pope Francis, who called for "decisive action" on the issue when he was elected in 2013. But their names never came out on any diocese list.
“Every single aspect of my life was surrounded by abuse of the Catholic Church — where I worked, where I went to school, where I danced with my friends, where I baptized my babies,” Nancy said. “It was a lifetime.”
Telling her story
After leaving her parents’ home, Nancy stopped practicing her Catholic faith. But she didn't really leave the church. She received the sacrament of marriage from deLeeuw as a young woman in 1969. And another priest baptized her four children.
In 2011, church leaders summoned Nancy and her siblings to a deposition at their office. She and her siblings would appear in front of Msgr. Robie Robichaux, who was then the church judicial vicar who oversaw complaints against priests. The family had no idea that Robichaux at the time was the subject of sexual abuse claims.
"I personally went to Robichaux and testified," her 66-year-old brother said. "Had I known what I know today, I would have never."
Robichaux was removed in October after a woman accused him of sexual abuse. The alleged abuse took place from 1979 to 1981 when the woman was 16 to 18 years old. She notified the diocese in 1994 about the abuse and asked for him to be removed from the ministry in 2004.
Nancy said each of her siblings gave their account. Robichaux was kind but condescending. She said he didn't seem to believe her and a few times when she started to cry, he would turn his head away and appear to roll his eyes.
He said deLeeuw would be defrocked. Nancy kept pestering the church about discipline. She said she wrote to bishops. She said the only thing that was done was she was told she could be given counseling.
“The fact that they wanted to help or do anything was a crock,” Nancy said. “They never did.”
Robichaux could not be reached for comment.
DeLeeuw died at age 97 in 2015 at the Lafayette General Medical Center. He spent 19 years at St. Leo and retired in Lafayette in 1986. An obituary bought on his behalf in The Advertiser said, “the last years were very painful for Father John being falsely accused and suffering of kidney failure.”
On Friday, when the diocese released the list of priests identifying deLeeuw and 32 others, it claimed he had been defrocked in 2011. But in a July 2012 edition of the Acadiana Catholic, the diocese's official publication, deLeeuw is listed among more than two dozen priests and Pope Benedict XVI who deserve the prayers of Catholics.
"Pray for our priests," the article stated. "Listed below are the priests for whom Catholics are asked to pray daily during the month of July."
For many years after, the effects of the abuse lingered for Nancy. She said it left her family fractured.
"To see it in writing, to see his name," she said, "it will help in healing.”