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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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Accused priest list released from diocese where abuse was first made public

Accused priest list released from diocese where abuse was first made public

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The U.S. Catholic diocese where the first widely reported case of clergy sex abuse became public in the 1980s released a list Friday of 33 priests and four deacons credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or vulnerable adult.

The list released by Bishop Douglas Deshotels of Louisiana's Diocese of Lafayette identifies three priests who were convicted or pleaded guilty but did not indicate where any of the 37 was accused, let alone give details of the accusations.

It gives each man's birth and ordainment 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 in religious orders who were accused while working in the diocese. He wrote in a pastoral letter released Wednesday that any such disclosures are up to the orders.

The Lafayette diocese employed Gilbert Gauthe, who pleaded guilty in 1985 to abusing 11 boys but testified that he had abused 35 youngsters while serving at four churches. Gauthe himself was named on the 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."

But the 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; and two retired in 1979 and 1982.

One was removed in 2016, the year Deshotels began leading the diocese, and three 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 apparently 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.

The Times of Shreveport reported in February that 17 names on the Alexandria list had ties to north Louisiana, but the Shreveport diocese had not received any allegations of abuse by a bishop, priest or deacon since being carved out of the Diocese of Alexandria in 1986.

Deshotels' letter noted that some people who have accused priests or deacons may not find those names on the list.

"Be assured that your report was treated with the utmost seriousness and respect, but the standard for establishing credibility may not yet have been met," he wrote. "If you, or anyone, has further knowledge which would establish credibility, we implore you to please come forward to civil authorities" and then the diocese.

"We have come to believe that involving law enforcement at the outset of an allegation is the prudent thing to do," Deshotels wrote.

He also encouraged anyone who has been abused as a minor or vulnerable adult but has not reported it to come forward.