Sheriff's Office Launches Investigation of Priest
It May Be Too Late to Prosecute Case
By Lolly Bowean
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
May 17, 2002
A day after a prominent New Orleans priest admitted he had molested an altar boy more than 20 years ago at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Reserve, the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office launched an investigation into the matter, authorities said.
St. John authorities said Thursday they are investigating accusations that Monsignor John C. Sax, 54, molested Joey Trosclair, now 31, in the 1980s, when Trosclair was an altar boy at the church where Sax was an associate pastor and later pastor.
Sax "gave a confession that he committed a crime in St. John Parish many years ago," said Capt. Mike Tregre, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. "That's something that needs to be looked into."
St. John authorities learned Thursday about the alleged sexual abuse from a newspaper story, Tregre said. Sax, who now works at a retirement home in Marrero, acknowledged in a written statement to The Times-Picayune that he molested Trosclair while working at St. Peter's between 1980 and 1985.
The allegations surfaced in a lawsuit filed by Trosclair that accuses Sax of molesting him for years beginning when Trosclair was 10 years old.
No record of report
Shortly after learning about the story, the Sheriff's Office assigned a detective to investigate the case, Tregre said. Although Trosclair's attorney said his client had reported the sexual abuse to the Sheriff's Office, Tregre said there are no records indicating Trosclair made a report.
"Joey Trosclair never filed a report with the Sheriff's Office," Tregre said. "So far, the only notification we have is what was in the paper. Our intention is to contact the victim and archdiocese and take statements and gather any evidence, if there is any."
The Rev. William Maestri, an archdiocese spokesman, said he expects the church, if asked, will cooperate with St. John authorities.
On Wednesday, Trosclair, a truck driver, said he hopes his lawsuit helps to end such abuse.
"I don't want this to happen to no other person," he said. "I've been bearing this cross for the last 22 years and I just need to take this cross and throw it off my shoulders and get on with my life."
Trosclair said his encounters with Sax, beginning when he was about 10 years old, have destroyed his self-esteem and affect his life today.
"It affects my marriage, in some ways, when me and my wife are having our intimate times, there are certain ways that she touches me brings back memories of the way he used to do it," he said.
Trosclair sued Sax and the archdiocese in May 2001, but the suit appears to have been served only last month, according to court records.
A friend of the Trosclair family, Sax often had Joey Trosclair do odd jobs at the rectory, sometimes too late to take the boy home at night, said Darryl Becnel, a Reserve lawyer who recently took over the case.
The incidents of abuse -- "too many to count," Trosclair said -- occurred on some of those overnight stays, which numbered about 50 annually from about 1980 to 1985.
In his lawsuit, Trosclair said he could not complain to church authorities or file suit until recently "for various psychological reasons."
He said he never told his parents, and only disclosed the abuse to a friend in 1997.
Trosclair said he finally in January 2000 told a priest in Reserve about his experiences, the same month Sax was elevated to monsignor.
Tregre said the sheriff's investigators will forward any evidence to the district attorney's office, which will decide whether to prosecute.
On Thursday, a representative of the St. John district attorney's office could not say yet how the case would be handled.
"We will take whatever appropriate action we can," Assistant District Attorney Charles Lorio said. "We are going to wait and see what the investigation reveals."
Sax's statement to the newspaper does count as a confession and is admissible in court, Lorio said.
But officials may not be able to charge Sax.
Statute of limitations
Under state law amended in 1993, the time limit to prosecute someone who has committed the type of sexual offense that Trosclair alleges is 10 years. According to the statute, that 10-year period starts when the alleged victim turns 18. Trosclair's time expired about three years ago.
Cases involving allegations of abuse before 1993 would be handled differently, depending on the severity of the charge. The statute of limitations would expire two, four or six years after the incident, regardless of whether the victim was a minor, according to the Orleans Parish district attorney's office.
For five years, Sax worked at St. Peter's Catholic Church at 1550 River Road in Reserve. The church, which has more than 500 parishioners, also has a school for children from preschool to eighth grade.
On Thursday, the church's early morning Mass was held as usual, parishioners said. The church's priest, the Rev. Joseph Bourgeois, mentioned the Sax case at the 6:30 a.m. service and asked the worshippers to pray for the families involved, parishioners said.
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