LAFAYETTE — Newly uncovered court documents and an alert from a national watchdog group accuse a longtime Lafayette Catholic priest of being among Acadiana’s long list of pedophile clerics.
The Rev. Gilbert Dutel is accused of coercing a young boy to have sex multiple times over a five- to six-year period beginning in 1976, according to a 1992 10-page statement made by the victim, who was not identified. The victim also said that as he grew older, the alleged trysts with Dutel ended and he began being molested by Diocese of Lafayette priests the Rev. Lane Fontenot and the Rev. David Primeaux.
Dutel is pastor at St. Edmond Catholic Church, in Lafayette. He did not return a message left with his office Wednesday.
“Many years ago, unproven allegations were made against Father Gilbert Dutel,” the diocese said in a statement.
“An investigation took place back then which considered the totality of the facts available,” the diocese said. “No new information exists that warrants any action by the diocese.
“In the absence of any contrary information, Father Dutel remains a priest in good standing with the Diocese of Lafayette.”
The person who alleged Dutel had sex with him as a boy is now a grown man of 48. In 1992, when he made the allegation to attorneys, he was 26. In 1976, when the alleged abuse started, he was 9 or 10.
“Well, (Dutel) would just put his arms around me and he was, I guess, trying to be consoling, kind and gentle and then he just started playing with me and he unzipped my pants,” he said, recounting his alleged first sexual engagement with Dutel in 1976 in Vermilion Parish.
The question-and-answer statement is one document in a now-unsealed federal lawsuit filed by the Diocese of Lafayette against the diocese’s insurance broker in 1988.
Monsignor Richard Greene, media liaison for the Diocese of Lafayette, said the diocese later this week will try to answer questions emailed by The Advocate, including whether diocesan officials will release investigative reports on Dutel.
The documents accusing Dutel came to light in a sweeping investigative series by Minnesota Public Radio, whose reporters looked into the role former Lafayette Bishop Harry Flynn played in the pedophile priest scandals in Louisiana and in Minnesota.
The MPR work and the uncovered court documents prompted the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests to call for Dutel’s suspension from the pulpit.
“We urge the current bishop to take immediate action and suspend this cleric immediately,” SNAP Director David Clohessy said in a July 21 dispatch to Louisiana media.
“We urge Bishop Michael Jarrell to immediately oust Father Dutel and use (the diocese’s) vast resources to beg anyone who saw, suspects or suffered crimes by Dutel to come forward, call police and start healing,” Clohessy said.
Another court document unearthed in the MPR series is a sworn affidavit by Abbeville attorney Anthony Fontana, who sued the diocese numerous times on behalf of Vermilion Parish victims who were sexually abused by former priest Gilbert Gauthe. Gauthe, suspected of abusing hundreds of boys and girls, pleaded guilty in 1985 to 33 counts of sexual abuse against 11 children.
In the affidavit, Fontana said that in 1987 he started hearing “certain allegations” of Dutel having sexual relations with boys, and had a discussion with Flynn. Flynn at the time was bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette, brought in to replace Bishop Gerald Frey and to deal with the scandal that exploded after Gauthe’s victims started coming forward.
Fontana said that after the allegation surfaced, Dutel was reassigned to another parish instead of being suspended.
“When I complained to Bishop Flynn about the failure to remove Father Dutel and the need to protect parishioners from him, Bishop Flynn justified his action on the basis of the drastic shortage of priests that the diocese was facing and the fact that he was told that Father Dutel was cured,” Fontana said in the sworn statement.
Fontana did not return two messages left with his office Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Dutel told The Daily Advertiser newspaper that the diocese examined the misconduct allegation over two decades ago.
“Upon completion of the process, it found that the allegation was not credible and that I was innocent. I maintained my innocence then and I maintain my innocence now,” Dutel said in an emailed statement to that newspaper.
The victim, whose name was blacked out in the document, said the sexual encounters with Dutel ended in his early teens. That’s when, he said, he started being molested by Primeaux and Fontenot.
The victim said he was an altar boy whose parents trusted priests.
“I went to church every day with my grandmother. My mom was a trustee for the church, we were just real involved and had a lot of dealings with them,” according to the statement.
He said he knew Primeaux through church, and met Fontenot on Primeaux’s sailboat. He said once, while the three of them were on the boat, Primeaux and Fontenot attacked him.
“It was just too much, two at once, it was just too much, and that time they both tried and that was pretty much the last dealings I had with them,” he said.
According to a Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch 2013 article, before Primeaux left the priesthood in 1985, he admitted to molesting 15 children. He eventually married and settled into academic life at Virginia Commonwealth University. But he killed himself in December 2012 after being confronted about his pedophile past.
In 1983, the Diocese of Lafayette suspended Fontenot from his clerical duties after he was accused of sexually abusing kids. He transferred to Washington state, where he continued as a Catholic priest. He later pleaded guilty to raping a 15-year-old boy and spent a year in jail.