Local diocese will not add former priest to credibly accused list
By Dan Copp
Houma Daily Courier via Houma Today
September 15, 2020
A priest accused of sexual abuse who served in Houma 45 years ago will not be added to the local diocese's list of “credibly accused” priests, church officials said.
On Aug. 18, Archbishop Gregory P. Aymond added the Rev. Henry Brian Highfill to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ list of priests with credible accusations of child sexual abuse.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, asked local Bishop Shelton Fabre to also include Highfill on the local list.
Highfill, who now lives in Las Vegas, served at St. Frances de Sales in Houma in 1975, according to New Orleans SNAP leader Kevin Bourgeois. The 78-year-old priest has been accused of abusing children from 1975 to 1981.
Because the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was formed two years after Highfill left, Fabre said he decided not to include his name on the list.
“The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was recently made aware of the inclusion of Father Brian Highfill on their list of credibly accused priests by the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” Fabre said. “As per the guidelines and in accordance with The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, an announcement was made about his inclusion on this list at all Masses last weekend at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, where Father Highfill served briefly in 1975, prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.”
The question to add Highfill’s name to the list was also presented to a review board which helped compile the list of credibly accused priests, Fabre said.
“The Board unanimously recommended that no priest who served in our area prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux in 1977 be placed on our credibly accused list,” the bishop said. “With that, I have decided that Father Brian Highfill will not be placed on our list per the Board’s recommendation.”
Bourgeois said he was disappointed by the bishop’s decision because he suspects there could be local victims of Highfill who have not come forward.
“Most sexual abuse survivors believe that they ‘were the only ones’ and live our lives in silence, shame and fear (in addition to other emotions and addictions),” Bourgeois said. “When bishops take allegations seriously and publicly disclose the identity of abusive clerics to the public, we feel validated. Then we come forward and ask for help. The road to healing is long and painful.”
Adding Highfill’s name to the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux list of credibly accused priests could help abuse victims begin a lifelong healing process, Bourgeois said.
The Diocese of Las Vegas said it was contacted on Aug. 27, 2018, by someone with “secondary information” alleging Highfill had abused a now deceased close relative.
Las Vegas church officials said they suspended Highfill on Aug. 28, 2018, following an investigation. The Archdiocese in New Orleans suspended him in November of 2018.
“The estimated time of abuse was between 1975 and 1981 and to date there has been no accusation or information of any incidents in Las Vegas,” Nevada church officials said.
To see the list of priests who have been credibly accused abuse in the Houma-Thibodaux diocese, click here.