Monday, April 29, 2002

Scandal in the Catholic Church

Early warnings ignored

By Gwen Filosa
Newhouse News Service

        In 1984, the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, who served churches in the Diocese of Lafayette, La., became the test case of a serial pedophile behind a Roman collar. Ray Mouton was hired as his defense attorney.

        Father Gauthe's career as a pedophile spanned that of his calling. He was indicted in August 1984, at about age 40, on 34 counts of sexual misconduct against 11 children. That November, he admitted to having sexual contact with boys in every church he served after his 1971 ordination.

   Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland and other cities are coping with sexual misconduct accusations against priests. Among them:

    • In Cincinnati, the archbishop has said “fewer than five” priests with a history of sexual misconduct still are serving in priestly roles. There are three priests in the same situation in the Diocese of Covington. Hamilton County and Montgomery County prosecutors have issued subpoenas for the church's files on sex abuse complaints to determine whether charges can be filed.

    • In Cleveland, the diocese has suspended nine priests as it reviews sex abuse allegations and announced that 12 priests no longer work in ministry because of such abuses. A 10th priest who had been suspended after an allegation surfaced that he molested a girl 22 years ago shot himself and was buried last week. after shooting himself in a drugstore parking lot.

    • In Massachusetts, the family of a teen-ager killed in a 1981 car crash has sued the Boston archbishop, claiming the Rev. Ronald Paquin fell asleep at the wheel in Tilton, N.H., drunk and tired after a night of sex and alcohol, the suit says. The family accuses church officials of harboring a known pedophile priest.

    • In New Hampshire, a class-action lawsuit continues to draw support from people who claim the Diocese of Manchester failed to protect minors from predatory priests and failed to report assaults officials knew about. The lead plaintiff says he was abused by a priest 30 years ago.

    • In St. Louis, prosecutors are investigating complaints of sexual abuse by several former and present priests. One former priest has been arrested on three counts of sexual misconduct involving children.

    • In Boston, law firms dealing with the sex abuse scandal are representing 300 people who say they were molested as children by priests, the Globe reported, bringing the number of plaintiffs there to 500.

    • In Florida, a bishop resigned in March from the Diocese of Palm Beach, admitting he sexually abused a former seminarian in the 1970s.

        “I didn't know there was anybody like Gilbert Gauthe,” his former attorney said. “I didn't know there were others.”

        Mr. Mouton's idealism quickly vanished after the Lafayette diocese hired him to represent Father Gauthe, and he learned his client was only one of several local priests who had abused boys, only one of scores of such priests across the country.

        Mr. Mouton went from defending Father Gauthe to trying to convince the church, locally and nationally, to confront the issue of sexual abuse. After Father Gauthe pleaded guilty, taking 20 years and avoiding a trial, Mr. Mouton helped write a startling 1985 report for the church's hierarchy, outlining a plan to responsibly deal with pedophile priests.

        The 92-page report predicted that if left to fester, the sexual abuse problem would cost the church a collective $1 billion in legal settlements and costs and involve up to 1,000 predatory priests. It defined types of sexual abuse and warned that pedophilia cannot be treated on an outpatient basis because “recidivism is so high.” It urged the church to deal with the media, saying, “A media policy of silence implies either necessary secrecy or cover-up.”

        Delivered to top church officials, including Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, the report went unheeded for years. Cardinal Law announced a policy for dealing with pedophile priests in 1993, after more than 100 people had come forward to accuse one priest of sexual abuse.

        Earlier this year, the Boston Globe reported that Cardinal Law had the report in 1985, months after he shipped off John Geoghan, now in prison for groping a boy and believed to have molested more than 130 children, to another parish.

        The boom fell again on the church's leadership earlier this month when a Boston lawyer made public 818 pages of documents — internal memos and letters — that show bishops shuttled problem priests accused of abusing boys from parish to parish — just like Father Gauthe had been moved about.

        In his New Orleans apartment recently, Mr. Mouton reflected on the warnings he and his co-authors, the Rev. Thomas Doyle and the late Rev. Michael Peterson, made 17 years ago.

        “We were right,” he said.

        The events of the past few months have given Mr. Mouton, who quit the law and the Catholic Church after spending three years immersed in the unspeakable details of priests having their way with children, plenty to think about.

        Mr. Mouton shakes his head at anyone who professes to be shocked at the emergence of yet another Father Gauthe. The church can't blot out pedophilia or cure a sociopathic priest, he said.

        “But you can remove him from the priesthood and do all in your power to ensure he is never in the presence of a child again. This simple thing has not been done in the past,” he said.

        Mr. Mouton was a former altar boy and high school football player who grew up to be a bulldog defense attorney, the man you called when you needed to win. One of the most “brilliant and unorthodox attorneys in the state,” wrote Jason Berry in his 1992 book on priests and the sexual abuse of children. Confident and tenacious, Mr. Mouton took the Father Gauthe case because it was the biggest one around.

        Today he is no longer a lawyer, having quit in 1988 to pursue his writing full time and lead an adventurous life. At 55, he lives for months at a time in Spain or Mexico and soon France, as well as in New Orleans. His wife, Melanie, is a devout Catholic.

        The church scandal haunts and enrages him. Under the guise of trust and honor, the bishops and vicars and their attorneys did their best to shield priests like Father Gauthe, Mr. Mouton found out.

        “When my involvement with the church ended, I no longer recognized anything in my life. I never questioned my faith,” he said. “My spirituality is stronger now. I am not a Catholic.

        “It all left me feeling empty,” he said. “All these years later, when reminded of these things, the same emptiness returns.”

        The report Mr. Mouton helped write in 1985 provides a step-by-step guide to dealing with sexual abuse allegations, from meeting with a victim's parents to hiring an attorney. Caveats abound: Don't try to cover up for problem priests. Support the troubled ones with psychiatric treatment. Create a “crisis control team” and other committees, authorized by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, to address the problem head-on.

        Today, Mr. Mouton is not alone in calling on the nation's dioceses to do one thing: Release it all. Every file, every complaint, every dime spent on a settlement. Father Gauthe alone, for example, cost the Lafayette diocese about $20 million in settlements.

        But the men who saw firsthand the Gauthe case unravel warned that this scandal has no boundaries. Father Doyle, Mr. Mouton's partner in the late 1980s, continues to counsel victims of sexual abuse, and has testified as an expert witness in countless cases.

        Father Doyle, 57, quit the Vatican in 1986 and is now chaplain at an Air Force base in Rammstein, Germany.

        “What you see in Boston, don't misconstrue that to be unique to Boston,” he said by phone. “It is not. I've seen for myself — in large dioceses and small ones — where they've covered up, lied, manipulated victims, tried to stonewall and bury evidence. It was not to protect priests, it was to protect bishops.”

        As his attorney, Mouton defended Gauthe well and hard. He attacked the media. But he never was an apologist for the Catholic Church. He helped strike the plea bargain that prevented a trial and sent Gauthe to prison. After serving 10 years, though, Gauthe was released in a legal twist that none of the attorneys involved with the deal said they expected. Louisiana's “good time” law applied to Gauthe despite the “no probation or parole” language in the paperwork.

        He won early release and landed in Texas, where he was promptly arrested for assaulting a 3-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and got seven months probation.

        Mouton and Doyle aren't certain where Gauthe is today.

        “All the church has to do is tell the truth,” Mr. Mouton said. “Release the names to the DA and the press reports it. Trust would begin to be restored.”


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