Louisiana diocese releases names of accused clergy, joining growing national trend
Ashley White, Leigh Guidry and Andrew Yawn, Lafayette Daily Advertiser. Published 8:00 p.m. ET April 12, 2019. USA Today.
The Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana released the names Friday of 33 priests and four deacons who were accused of sexually abusing minors but offered no information about what they were accused of, when the accusations took place or how long they served as Roman Catholic priests after the accusations.
With the disclosure, the Lafayette diocese joins a growing list of about 60 across the U.S. to release the names of priests accused of sexually abusing children.
The string of voluntary disclosures by top Catholic leaders follows a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation in August which documented the “horrifying scale” of sexual abuse perpetrated by 300 priests on more than 1,000 identified victims spanning nearly eight decades.
The Lafayette disclosure comes one day after the Lake Charles diocese released its list of accused priests, the final two Louisiana dioceses to publicly disclose identities of accused clergy.
The new list includes the names of priests who were convicted of sexual abuse in high-profile cases, including former priest Gilbert Gauthe, whose case was the first widely known case of a Catholic priest accused of pedophilia.
Gauthe admitted to raping and sodomizing 37 children as early as 1972. He pleaded guilty in 1986 to 11 counts of child molestation. Gauthe was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released a decade early. He was later arrested for abuse of a child in Texas.
Others on the diocese list are accused child sex offenders previously reported by The Advertiser, including Ronald Lane Fontenot, Robert Limoges, David Primeaux, Stanley Begnaud, Lloyd Hebert, Harry Quick, John Anthony Mary Engbers, Aldeo Gilbert and Valerie Pullman.
Of those priests and deacons identified on the diocese list, 21 are dead, 10 were removed as priests, three resigned and three were incarcerated after convictions.
Three of the four deacons are deceased. Willis Broussard, now 91, lives in Sulphur in Calcasieu Parish, according to parish land records. He resigned from his assignment at St. John the Evangelist in Mermentau in 1990.
Unlike other disclosures by dioceses across the country, the Lafayette diocese report did not include information about the nature of accusations against the priests, when they were accused or how long they served as accused priests. For example, there is no way of knowing in the diocese report if a priest accused multiple times of abuse continued serving for many years before retiring, dying or being removed.
The decision to release the information in this format was made by the Lay Person Review Board that helped compile the list, said Blue Rolfes, a diocese spokeswoman.
Members of the Lafayette diocese’s lay review board and local attorneys have spent months searching for accusations against clergy by combing through 50 years of personnel records for the hundreds of priests who have served in the diocese, Rolfes has said.
The list of accused priests in the Lafayette diocese is more than double what diocese leaders once said was the number. As early as 2014, former Bishop Michael Jarrell said at least 15 priests had been accused of sexual abuse.
Bishop Douglas Deshotel announced in September he would consider releasing the names of priests against whom credible accusations of abuse have been alleged, a notable development in a diocese that has long refused to identify the accused clergy publicly.
Deshotel promised earlier this week that disclosure of the list will be an “ongoing process of accountability” and will be a change in attitude and approach.
“In other words, the future receipt and subsequent determination of any new credible allegation against a priest or deacon, living or deceased, will result in adding his name to the disclosure list,” he wrote in a letter to the diocese. “In fact, we have reasonable hope that the disclosure list will be a catalyst for continued reporting of past or future instances of abuse.”
He said some priests accused of sexual abuse may not be included on the list because “the standard for establishing credibility may not yet have been met,” the letter said.
“I sincerely acknowledge and appreciate the courage of those who have already come forward with accusations,” Deshotel wrote. “Receiving each individual report was essential to ensuring the safety of others and to helping the church publicly acknowledge its sins and errors.”
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said last week he would not take action as the state’s top prosecutor to prod disclosure by the diocese, although he said as a member of the Lafayette diocese he urged transparency about those priests who had credible allegations of abuse.
The diocese defines credible allegations as those made against a priest that an average person would find believable, although it is not a legal standard.
Landry issued a statement Friday saying he is “troubled by the allegations and my heart goes out to those who have been victimized.”
He urged victims of clergy abuse to report it to his office’s Louisiana Bureau for Investigations.
Nationally, voluntary disclosures by top Catholic leaders have often been criticized for being incomplete. Victim advocates also do not think dioceses should be compiling their own lists and have called for independent investigations by outside consultants and civil authorities.
“There is widespread evidence the church is complicit in covering up and we can’t rely on church investigations,” Tim Lennon, a national leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a recent USA TODAY NETWORK interview. “As long as the church controls information they can control disclosures of predators in their community.”
In at least 18 other states, attorneys general have begun investigations. In at least four states, dioceses have opened up their files to independent consultants to conduct a review. Among them:
In Illinois, the attorney general issued a scathing report that identified more than 500 clergy who had not been named in the church’s own disclosure of accused priests. The Illinois diocese had identified 185 clergy with credible sex abuse allegations against them. The attorney general identified 690.
In an independent review in Arkansas, a consultant found credible sexual abuse allegations against 17 priests and four members of religious orders — five more than the Arkansas diocese had found on its own.
The attorney general of New York has announced he would work in tandem with district attorneys to investigate abuse allegations.
West Virginia’s attorney general is relying on state consumer protection laws to pursue an investigation.
The Lafayette diocese used the Lay Person Review Board, made up of professionals from law enforcement, education and psychology fields, to review cases.
The Lafayette diocese was not the only one to include their review board in this process.
In Kentucky, the Louisville archdiocese in February released a report ordered by its Sexual Abuse Review Board with the names of 48 priests and members of religious orders credibly accused of child abuse dating back 70 years. The state’s attorney general also is backing an attempt to ask the Kentucky Supreme Court to call a grand jury to investigate Kentucky’s dioceses.
USA Today Network reporters Holly Meyer and Anita Wadhwani contributed to this report.
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