Former Saints player's daughter, another man allege New Orleans clergy abuse in new lawsuits
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
August 15, 2019
|LindaLee Stonebreaker in 2018|
|LindaLee Stonebreaker and her father Steve Stonebreaker are shown in this undated photo in front of Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans.|
|LindaLee Stonebreaker at four years old in 1968.|
The daughter of a former Saints football player is one of two people who filed new lawsuits Thursday in Civil District Court seeking compensation from the Archdiocese of New Orleans over allegations of clergy abuse dating back decades.
In her suit, Linda Lee Stonebreaker, whose father was Saints linebacker Steve Stonebreaker, says she was 4½ years old when a River Ridge priest named Louis LeBourgeois molested her while driving her home in 1968.
Stonebreaker’s suit says she reported her ordeal in 2014 to archdiocesan officials, who agreed to cover her therapy bills, suggesting they believed her. But then the archdiocese omitted LeBourgeois — who died in 2015 — from a Nov. 2 list of 57 clergymen who were considered credibly accused of child abuse.
The suit argues that omission violates transparency policies that the Catholic Church has adopted in its ongoing clergy molestation scandal.
The plaintiff in the second suit is an unidentified man who says he was a 10- or 11-year-old altar boy in 1982 when a Gentilly priest named Michael Fraser started molesting him, abuse he says continued for a decade. Fraser, who is still living, has tried to keep in touch with the plaintiff, attempting to contact him as recently as four years ago, the suit says.
Fraser is on the list of credibly accused priests released by the church.
Generally, statutes of limitation prevent plaintiffs from going to court to pursue damages for long-ago misdeeds.
But in her suit, Stonebreaker, 55, argues that the archdiocese’s decision to pay her therapy bills essentially invalidated any such limitation from applying in her case, because it was an acknowledgment that she had a right to pursue her claim in court.
The other plaintiff alleges that he didn’t realize he could seek damages from local Catholic officials over his abuse at the hands of Fraser until the archdiocese included the clergyman on its Nov. 2 list in connection with prior molestation claims. He contends that he filed his suit before the closure of a one-year window that didn’t start until the release of the list, which has since been expanded to 61 clergymen.
Both Stonebreaker and the other man are represented by a legal team led by John Denenea and Richard Trahant, who have about a dozen clients with pending abuse-related claims against the local archdiocese.
The lawyers said they hope Louisiana will follow several other states and reform its laws governing statutes of limitations in cases of sexual violence.
“One can hope that Louisiana will not be at the bottom of the list of states that provide justice for victims of sexual assault,” they said.
An archdiocesan spokeswoman declined comment on the new cases Thursday, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.
Stonebreaker’s suit echoes a lengthy interview with her that The Times-Picayune published last year. She said LeBourgeois picked her up from school one day and proceeded to fondle her genitals and force her to perform oral sex on him on the drive home.
Stonebreaker, now a California resident, said LeBourgeois told her: “I’m God in man form. … I am doing to you what other men will do to you in the future, only I am doing it first.”
LeBourgeois, who later attained the title of monsignor, also allegedly told the tearful girl she would go to hell and that her parents wouldn’t love her if she told anyone what happened.
The archdiocese has said LeBourgeois died about three months after Stonebreaker made her complaint against him — before the complaint could be presented to a lay board that determines whether abuse allegations are credible. It said the priest had not been accused of molestation by anyone else in his 50-plus years as a clergyman.
Stonebreaker's father, who died in 1995, played for the Saints from 1967 to 1968.
The plaintiff in the other suit said Fraser — then assigned to the now-defunct St. Raphael Church — molested him at the priest’s residence or office. As the plaintiff grew up, he said, Fraser would take him on out-of-town trips — including to New York and Disney World — and sexually abuse him.
Unrelated lawsuits filed and settled years ago linked Fraser to abuse at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in the mid-1980s, prompting the church to remove him from the ministry in 2004. Since then, other suits have tied him to abuse at St. Raphael, including a client of Denenea and Trahant who filed a claim in February.