Accusations of sex crimes involving Roman Catholic priests and Acadiana children might date back some seven decades, court records reveal. They also include two notorious court cases in the past few years.
The case of the Rev. F. David Broussard, whose scheduled Aug. 14 court appearance has been delayed until Nov. 27 in St. Martin Parish, is the most recent occurrence. Broussard is not accused of sexual contact with children, but the former Breaux Bridge pastor, 51, was charged in July 2016 with 500 counts of possession of child pornography. Some 500 images of children were found on his personal computer
Broussard wrote a public letter of apology after his arrest but pleaded not guilty to the felony charges in May. He remains free on $25,000 bond. Most Rev. Douglas Deshotel, bishop of Lafayette, placed him on administrative leave and he performs no priestly duties.
But the Breaux Bridge case was not the only recent one to land a local priest in trouble. Former priest Mark A. Broussard, convicted in March 2016 of molesting altar boys in the neighboring diocese of Lake Charles in the late 1980s, was arrested in 2012 after a man wrote to Lake Charles Bishop Glen John Provost to reveal accusations against Broussard, who had served as a priest in several Catholic churches.
At the time of his arrest, Mark Broussard had been living at a Duson address for many years. He was sentenced in Calcasieu Parish court in May 2016 to two consecutive life sentences for aggravated rape and 50 additional years for other sexual abuse charges.
In recent months, USA Today Network reporters have reported on accusations involving 11 Catholic priests in Guam. A former altar boy there accused the archbishop in Guam of sexually abusing him in the 1970s, which has prompted other revelations.
In Louisiana, the local cases marked the tip of the iceberg for accusations involving local priests and children. An investigation by Minnesota Public Radio in 2014 uncovered a wealth of court-related documents in Texas that related to such incidents in the Diocese of Lafayette.
The link then: Most Rev. Harry Flynn, who served as bishop both here and in Minnesota, where sex abuse cases involving the clergy were uncovered. As prelate of both Catholic dioceses, his leadership came under question in court actions in both dioceses.
Those cases revealed that at least 15 Diocese of Lafayette priests had been sexual offenders with minor children as victims. Most Rev. Michael Jarrell, Lafayette’s bishop in 2014, declined to name those priests, including seven who were then deceased. The diocese said five others lived outside the diocese, three lived in the diocese but were no longer active priests.
Reviews of court documents showed accused child sex offenders included: Gilbert Gauthe, Lane Fontenot, Robert Limoges, David Primeaux, Stanley Begnaud, Lloyd Hebert, Harry Quick, John Anthony Mary Engbers, Aldeo Fernand Gilbert and Valerie Pullman.
Those accused served in myriad church positions across the Lafayette diocese, which formerly included what is now the Diocese of Lake Charles. Some were natives of Louisiana, some came from as far away as New Hampshire and Quebec and Holland to serve as priests here. Many served in small Acadiana towns, including Gueydan, Baldwin, Evangeline, Eunice, Duson, Louisa, Leroy and Ville Platte.
Several served in Abbeville, including Gauthe, whose court cases drew nationwide attention in the 1980s. Gauthe admitted to raping or sodomizing 37 children dating back to 1972 in Broussard; in 1986, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was released a decade early.
The number of Gauthe’s victims is believed to be considerably more, perhaps 100, according to bishopaccountability.org, a watchdog website on child sex abuse and the clergy.
Nowadays, the Catholic Church’s response to accusations of sex abuse involving clergy members is much different than it was in the latter half of the 20th century. Bishop Provost, a former longtime Lafayette Parish priest, turned over accusations against Mark Broussard to the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office; at the arrest of the Rev. F. David Broussard, who served as pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Breaux Bridge, Bishop Deshotel cooperated with local authorities and insisted the diocese would act with transparency in criminal cases involving priests.
The Diocese of Lafayette, criticized for moving offending priests to different parishes rather than prosecuting them for crimes, says it marches in step with the Catholic Church's mandates for protecting children.
Since 2003, a diocesan spokeswoman said, the Diocese of Lafayette has trained more than 47,000 people in The Office of Safe Environment practices and policies, which includes mandating criminal background checks and fingerprinting for clergy, religious and lay people who have contact with minors. The practices and policies mandate reporting suspected child abuse to civil authorities.
Monsignor Curtis Mallet, a Lafayette diocesan spokesman on sexual abuse issues, was unavailable for comment.