Letting the Truth Come out at Last

By James Gill
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
March 31, 1993

If, as its critics allege, the archdiocese initially wanted to cover up the Dino Cinel case, it is now pursuing a quite different tack.

All the sordid facts are laid out in court papers filed by the archdiocese in a civil suit brought by Christopher Fontaine, who was 17 when Cinel picked him up in the French Quarter in 1982.

Fontaine's claims against Cinel and the church for sexual abuse and clergy malpractice were dismissed last year on grounds that the suit was filed too late.

Fontaine also claimed that his privacy was invaded when Cinel published pornographic pictures of him in a Danish magazine. That action stands against Cinel himself, but the judge let the church off the hook on that score too, ruling that Cinel was not acting under color of the priesthood when hawking the photographs.

Fontaine has asked the appeal court to reinstate all his claims, and it is in response to that plea that the church has come forward to attack his character.

The candor exhibited in the archdiocese's latest brief is not, of course, entirely spontaneous, Cinel's sexual depredations having been trumpeted in the media. The church's response to suits alleging sexual misconduct by its priests in various parts of the country has tended to the discreet settlement, but Fontaine's cause is altogether too celebrated for that. The archdiocese now has nothing to lose by letting the truth come out.

Whether or not time has run out on Fontaine's principal claims against Cinel and the archdiocese, there is not much doubt that here was a priest who should never have lasted from 1979 until 1988 at St. Rita's Church. No great sleuthing was required to identify Cinel as the most active of homosexuals.

Indeed, when Cinel picked Fontaine up, he took him straight back to the rectory at St. Rita's for oral sex.

A few months later, Fontaine, who was only 17 but had already done plenty of time, pleaded guilty to robbery. Cinel interceded and Judge Lionel Collins let Fontaine off with a stint of community service at - where else? - St. Rita's.

A four-year orgy of videotaped sex ensued, with encounters in New Orleans, California and Mississippi.

Since all this is conceded in the church's own brief, Fontaine's veracity is hardly at issue. The church nevertheless devotes a considerable amount of its space to dumping on Fontaine with an enthusiasm that seems the antithesis of Christian charity.

Teen-agers offering illicit sex on Bourbon Street are inclined to a deficiency in the social graces.

But the brief describes Fontaine as a "punk," a "catamite" and a "hustler," for instance.

If Fontaine has more than his share of character defects, so what? It is hardly a mitigating factor for Cinel or, for that matter, the church. This was obviously a young man who needed help, precisely the kind of lost soul a Christian missionary might be expected to seek out.

That Cinel approached him for reasons other than a desire to put him on the path to heaven may not be an outrage for which the church can be held legally responsible. Certainly, the church, doubtless with the full encouragement of its insurers, will endure whatever further embarrassments are necessary to avoid paying damages.

But any troubles Fontaine had when he met Cinel can only have been exacerbated by his experiences of the next four years, and the church must bear some moral responsibility for that.

In a taped interview with investigators, Fontaine said he thought he loved Cinel. "If he wouldn't have hurt me as bad as he did, I guess I probably would be still right there beside him," he said.

Not, perhaps, the most romantic of utterances and Fontaine may not be a man whose word you can rely on. Still, nobody is supposed to be beyond redemption, although there is no hint of such a sentiment in the savaging Fontaine receives in the archdiocese's brief.


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