Diocese Won't Release Details of Priest's Sexual Misconduct

By Angela Simoneaux
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
July 23, 2002

LAFAYETTE - The Diocese of Lafayette has refused to release any information about the incident leading to the recent removal of a high-ranking priest for sexual misconduct.

Earlier this month, the diocese issued a three-paragraph press release stating Monsignor Michael Herpin had informed the diocese he had "engaged in sexual impropriety with a minor about 30 years ago."

The release stated the diocese's Review Board for Effective Response to the Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors met on the issue and recommended Herpin be immediately removed and provided with medical treatment.

The remainder of the release indicated the diocese initiated an outreach program to help those affected and to search for possible victims, and also had contacted unspecified secular authorities.

Since the press release was issued, no one at the diocese has returned any of at least four phone calls to Bishop Edward O'Donnell.

Kathleen Toups, editor of the Acadiana Catholic publication and media liaison for the diocese, was given a list of questions Monday, which she said she would relay.

The questions requested the city where the incident occurred, the law enforcement agency to which the incident was reported, the age of the minor involved and the nature of the incident. The name of the victim was not requested. Toups later said the questions would not be answered because no additional information would be released about the case.

She did answer questions about Herpin's position in the diocese. Herpin was vicar of the central region. That means he was one of four vicars who function much like a regional vice president would in a secular organization, Toups said.

Herpin handled issues in the central region, which geographically includes portions of Lafayette and St. Martin parishes, to take some of the church-business load off the bishop, she said.

Herpin also was the pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Broussard at the time of his removal.

The case is the first to arise in the Diocese of Lafayette since the adoption in June of a sexual abuse policy by American bishops.

Last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," a document that dictates the church's handling of sexual abuse of minors by the clergy and other church personnel.

The bishops also adopted a list of "norms" that lays out how the issues will be handled. In the preamble of the "Essential Norms," the bishops stated they "would be as open as possible with the people in parishes and communities about instances of sexual abuse of minors, with respect always for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved."The charter itself also addresses secrecy with the following article:"Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim/survivor and noted in the text of the agreement."Another article of the charter states, "Each diocese will develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness. "Within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involve, dioceses will deal as openly as possible with members of the community.

"This is especially so with regard to assisting and supporting parish communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct involving minors."The list of norms also includes language regarding the church's contact with law enforcement in these cases. The document requires that all allegations involving a person who currently is a minor be reported to public authorities, and requires diocesan cooperation in the investigation.

"It will cooperate with public authorities about reporting in cases when the person alleged to have been abused is no longer a minor," the document continues.

"In every instance, the diocese will advise and support a person's right to make a report to public authorities."

The diocese's cooperation with public authorities in this case consisted of a phone call from a diocese attorney to the St. Landry Parish Sheriff's Eunice substation that will not assist in any investigation, Chief Deputy Laura Balthazar said.

"He didn't know the name of victim, he didn't know the name of the priest, and all he said was it happened 30 years ago," she said of the phone call. "He wanted us to put it on the record, so we did. We made out a complaint."

That's about all that will happen, Balthazar said.

"There's nothing to investigate. We don't have a victim. We have nowhere to start."


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