Parishioners Rejoice in Priest's Return
Insufficient Evidence Supported Accusation

By Paul Purpura
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
November 25, 2002

The Rev. Luis Henao's return to priestly duties Sunday was marked with applause from parishioners in the mostly full Blessed Frances Xavier Seelos Catholic Church, from where the archdiocese of New Orleans pulled the assistant pastor six months ago because of an allegation that he sexually abused a minor more than 20 years ago.

Henao, who Archbishop Alfred Hughes relieved of duty at the Bywater parish May 19, returned after Hughes and a review board found insufficient evidence to keep him on administrative leave, the archdiocese announced last week.

Until then, Henao, a native of Latin America who was ordained in 1974 and leads the Spanish Masses at the Bywater church, was prohibited from celebrating the Mass or the sacraments.

Before Sunday's Mass, the Rev. Joseph Benson, the parish's pastor, read a letter to the congregation from Hughes, which was translated into Spanish.

The archbishop wrote of "healing," "great joy we feel" and getting through the "time of uncertainty and stress."

Led by an entourage of altar boys as he walked up the church's center aisle as Mass began, Henao was greeted by parishioners bearing warm smiles and applause. Benson embraced the seemingly humbled Henao behind the altar, before the lively service began.

After Mass, parishioners who spilled out onto the 3000 block of Dauphine Street praised Henao and expressed relief that the archdiocese returned him. Henao, who has been instructed not to discuss his case, declined comment Sunday.

"Everybody's really glad that he was back as a full-fledged father," said parishioner Robert Shocket. "Everyone was joyous that the archbishop came to that conclusion."

Hughes first put Henao on administrative leave based on what appeared to be a "credible" complaint that he sexually abused a minor in 1981, an archdiocese spokesman said. The complaint, details of which were not discussed publicly, came from one individual.

The allegation surfaced during a review of files dating back 50 years. Hughes, in consultation with an 18-member lay review board, cleared Henao.

Elicia Guity said she was with Henao when he was assigned to the former Annunciation church, one of five churches whose congregations merged last year in the new Blessed Frances Xavier Seelos, which is at the former St. Vincent de Paul church. Guity said she sang with the choir at Annunciation when Henao was there and followed him to the new parish.

"I'm so glad he's back," Guity said. "He's good. I like him. He's a great father."

"We love Father Luis, and we're very happy he's back," said Lucy Galaviz, who travels to the Bywater church from her River Ridge home. "We respect him. To me, it's like a blessing having him back. We love that priest, because he's so kind. All he's given is his love and his understanding."


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