According to the Associated Press, the Roman Catholic diocese in Louisiana where the first widely reported case of U.S. clergy sex abuse became public in the 1980s has released a list of 33 priests and four deacons credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or vulnerable adult. Lafayette Bishop Douglas Deshotels’ list identifies three priests who were convicted or pleaded guilty but does not indicate where any of the 37 was accused, let alone give details of the accusations.
Released Friday (April 12), the list gives each man’s birth and ordination year, assignments and his status, such as whether he was removed from the clergy, resigned or both. Three were removed last year.
Unlike bishops in some other dioceses, Deshotels did not release the names of people who were in affiliated religious orders and were accused while working in his diocese. He wrote in a pastoral letter that any such disclosures are up to the orders.
It was in 1985 that a Lafayette diocese priest, Gilbert Gauthe, pleaded guilty to abusing 11 boys – and testified that he had abused 35 youngsters while serving at four churches. Gauthe himself was named on the new list as one of two priests who both resigned and were removed from the priesthood in 1983.
“In 1984,” Deshotels wrote, “the Diocese of Lafayette was plunged into the heart of a terrible darkness when, for the first time, publicly, the Catholic Church was confronted with the harsh reality that men consecrated for God’s work had betrayed their sacred trust.”
Former priest Gilbert Gauthe was the subject of the first widely reported U.S. case of Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse in the 1980s. But the Lafayette diocese list made it clear that private confrontation came much earlier. The earliest dates are for Cornelius Van Merrianboer, a priest who was born in 1898, ordained in 1924, resigned in 1933 and died in 1960.
Other credibly accused priests resigned in 1968, 1973 and 1978. Two died in 1970 and 1977. Two retired in 1979 and 1982. One was removed in 2016, the year Deshotels began leading the diocese. Three others were removed in 2018. At least three names also were among 12 released Thursday by the Diocese of Lake Charles, which was part of the Lafayette diocese until 1980.
That presumably brings the number of credibly accused priests in Louisiana to 185. The Archdiocese of New Orleans described 57 cases in November. The Diocese of Baton Rouge has reported 41, the Diocese of Alexandria 27 and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, 14.
According to nationally recognized sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman, “Releasing the names of predator priests is a positive step, but the work is incomplete. The Catholic Church must take meaningful action to protect children and vulnerable adults.”