A Baton Rouge bishop who sexually abused young men while he threatened to excommunicate Catholics who disobeyed church doctrine.

A priest who was shuffled among at least six churches in the Capital region, as a list of boys who said he raped them grew past 30.

A missionary who left Baton Rouge after boys told their parents he molested them, but later popped up in church parishes in other parts of America and Canada.

The stories of those priests — Joseph Sullivan, Christopher Springer and John Berube, respectively — can be found in court records that shine a light on Catholic clergy sexual abuse in the Diocese of Baton Rouge over the past several decades. At least 15 priests who served in Baton Rouge stand accused of sexually abusing more than 60 victims, according to a review by The Advocate that examined lawsuits and public allegations and included more than a dozen interviews.

But the number of accused priests is all but guaranteed to grow Thursday when Bishop Michael Duca releases a list of priests who have been credibly accused of abuse in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. The diocese reported in 2004, amid a worldwide scandal over child sex abuse by Catholic clergy, that over the preceding decades 10 diocesan priests and 13 priests from religious orders who served in Baton Rouge had been accused of sexual abuse — or 23 all told. They did not name them then at the time.

"I hope that this list will be a help to the victims of abuse who have felt betrayed and unsupported by the unwillingness of the Church to publicly admit to the crimes of these priests and to acknowledge the depth of pain and hurt that was caused by these priests’ abusive actions," Duca wrote in a letter read at all weekend Masses.

In anticipation of the pending release — which this time will include names — lawyers and auditors hired by the diocese have spent months reviewing Baton Rouge clergy files. The planned announcement has been mostly applauded by abuse survivors, their attorneys and advocates.

“I’m glad they’ve been identified,” said Garnett Bedenbaugh, a local representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “I don’t think it’s the bottom of it yet.”

Bedenbaugh added that the church needs to do more than just identify abusers. “I’m waiting for the day that these bishops get called to task, too, because they move these perpetrators around,” he said.

Felecia Peavy, an attorney who represented at least 30 plaintiffs who alleged abuse by Springer, said the diocese should have reckoned decades ago with exposing “these monsters and the nightmares you knew these monsters were creating.”

“It would have been nice had they done that from Day One, but they didn’t,” she said. “It’s good thing for the parishioners but it’s a little bit too late, way after the damage has been done.”

Duca said in his letter that renewal and healing cannot take place until the truths of the past have been acknowledged.

All seven Catholic dioceses in Louisiana have promised to publish similar lists of credibly accused priests. So far, only New Orleans and Houma-Thibodaux have released them. The New Orleans list included 57 clergy members, while the Houma-Thibodaux list had 14.

Since he was installed as bishop of Baton Rouge in August, Duca has made releasing the list one of his top priorities. The list of fallen priests will almost certainly include one of his predecessors.

Joseph Sullivan

Joseph Sullivan, who became Baton Rouge’s bishop in 1974, was known for hard line stances, including a 1978 threat to excommunicate any Catholic who consented to, took part in or advised an abortion. But while Sullivan presented himself as an unyielding follower of church doctrine, at least three people accused him of privately breaking other tenets of the faith, in which priests take vows of celibacy and promise to protect and shepherd children toward God.

Sullivan used his “trust, power and authority” to persuade families to allow their children to spend time with him, lawsuits filed against the Diocese of Baton Rouge and other dioceses alleged. At St. Joseph Cathedral Prep, a Baton Rouge seminary for minors that closed in 1978, he took at least one student under his wing, enticed him with gifts and continued to visit after the boy moved in the 1980s to a Texas seminary.

That former student — Glenn Hymel — is one of three who filed lawsuits after Sullivan’s death in 1982 that alleged the bishop had been an abuser. Hymel’s attorney, Chelsie King Garza, applauded her client’s bravery in coming forward when he filed suit in 2007.

“The bishop befriended him and befriended his family,” Garza said in a recent interview. “The bishop was revered, and if they had taken an interest in you and your family, it would be something honorable.”

The bishop’s annual summer vacations to Hawaii were a focal point of the allegations against him. One boy said Sullivan abused him during trips to Hawaii between 1969 and 1977 as Sullivan said private masses for his family there. That lawsuit accused the Diocese of Baton Rouge of allowing Sullivan to take unsupervised trips to Hawaii despite knowing he was “a child molester.” At the time, lawyers for the diocese denied it.

Both Baton Rouge Bishop Emeritus Robert Muench and the former Baton Rouge vicar general John Carville were asked in 2006 depositions for a suit about Sullivan whether they knew at their time of their ordinations that priests were abusing children. Lawyers for the diocese instructed Muench and Carville not to answer, saying the questions were outside of the scope of the depositions.

The diocese settled Hymel’s case for $225,000 in 2009, which church officials said they would pay through their insurer. Three years earlier, the diocese had settled another suit related to Sullivan on confidential terms and changed the name of Bishop Sullivan High School to St. Michael the Archangel.

John Berube

John Berube came to the Diocese of Baton Rouge in the 1960s from the missionary order of La Salette priests, and he was assigned to St. Theresa of Avila in Gonzales. But in 1965, two sets of brothers told their parents he had abused them. Once the four boys were adults, they filed a lawsuit in 2003.

“The La Salette order told the Diocese of Baton Rouge that Father John Berube did not have any problems that should cause any concern,” the lawsuit reads. “Six months later, he raped the petitioners.”

The boys’ parents reported the abuse in 1965 to their priest, Baton Rouge’s former Rev. Arthur Lieux, who is now dead, the lawsuit says. The boys’ parents later said in court filings that they feared going to police.

“It was my sincere belief that had I told civil authorities of Father Berube’s action … I could have faced severe penalties from the Roman Catholic Church,” one of the parents said in court filings. “The idea that I would have been a sinner for bringing a civil claim against the Church was taught to me and reinforced by the Catholic Church.”

The case resulted in a settlement that included counseling and a confidential sum of money.

The men who alleged abuse declined to comment for this story, and their attorneys, Darrel Papillion and John Carmouche, did not return messages. But court filings show that the diocese defended itself by saying that Berube was immediately sent back to his La Salette order after the abuse was reported in 1965. Dan Borné, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Diocese, said former Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Tracy sent a letter to the La Salette order at the time that explained the misbehavior.

Despite the allegations, Berube remained in the priesthood. The La Salette order based in Massachusetts did not respond to The Advocate’s questions about why.

After leaving Baton Rouge, Berube went on to serve as pastor at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Gatineau, Quebec, between 1972 and 1974. The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Gatineau, Pierre-Paul Périard, confirmed to The Advocate that Berube had worked there but said archdiocesan officials were never aware of abuse allegations against him “either during his time in our diocese or before.”

A 2001 obituary for Berube indicated he was still a priest when he died. The obituary listed multiple churches in Boston where he had been posted. It also noted that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston celebrated his funeral Mass. The next year, Law would emerge as a central figure in the sex-abuse scandal exposed by The Boston Globe. He was accused of helping to hide abuse by shuttling predatory priests from parish to parish.

Christopher Springer and Daniel Lemoine

Christopher Springer

The Rev. Christopher Springer as a Redemptorists priest, circa 1960s. At least 30 people filed lawsuits that claimed Springer sexually abused them when he was a priest. He worked at churches across Baton Rouge in the 1970s, and he was removed from ministry in the mid-1980s. 

Baton Rouge court filings related to abuse by Springer and another former priest, Daniel Lemoine, have been kept under seal. But details of the allegations against them have surfaced in other ways.

Springer was accused of raping altar boys in the Baton Rouge area between 1968 and 1980. He worked in at least six church parishes, including St. Pius X in Baton Rouge, St. Mary’s of False River, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Maringouin, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Jackson, Our Lady of the Assumption in Clinton, and St. John the Evangelist in Plaquemine, according to court records. At least 30 people pursued claims against him in various lawsuits, several arguing the diocese should have known Springer was a serial pedophile but did nothing to stop his abuse.

Those cases resulted in confidential settlements. Springer is still believed to be alive, in his 90s, but could not be reached for this story. In a 2009 affidavit, Springer admitted that, in 1984, he met with former Baton Rouge Bishop Stanley Ott about going to a treatment center for troubled priests. He was removed from ministry in 1985 and laicized in 1990.

Charles Cusimano, an attorney who has represented the Diocese of Baton Rouge in numerous sex abuse cases, including Springer’s, did not return a message.

The 1999 case against Lemoine may be the most secretive of the various civil actions alleging abuse by Baton Rouge-area priests. The file is sealed, and the names of both the plaintiff and defendant are shielded by pseudonyms. The case resulted in a confidential settlement in 2002.

Papillion, who was the victim’s attorney, said when it was filed that the lawsuit was about a Baton Rouge priest’s sexual misconduct with a teenage boy during the 1990s. When the diocese reached a  settlement, they said the priest would be removed from ministry. At the same time, WAFB and WBRZ cited anonymous sources and reported that the priest was Lemoine.

Papillion did not return requests for comment for this story.

Lemoine served at Our Lady of Mercy, St. John Vianney and taught at Catholic High.

Lemoine appears to still live in Baton Rouge, and his name is listed in state business filings as the agent for Danco Environmental, LLC. When a reporter called a phone number listed for him and identified herself, the man who answered hung up.

Daniel Drinan

Daniel Drinan, once a Claretian priest at LSU’s Christ the King Parish, has not been publicly accused of sexual abuse during his time in Baton Rouge, which he left in 1979 after Sullivan forced him out at LSU. Years later, however, Drinan was accused of abuse in a different diocese.

In 2002, Drinan was removed as a priest in Austin, Texas, after being accused of inappropriate behavior with a child and facing a misdemeanor assault charge. He led a drug rehab program in Nevada afterward, and then faced criminal charges in 2012 when multiple witnesses reported that he masturbated on a plane.

The criminal complaint, filed in Colorado, said Drinan was looking at porn on his laptop during a flight when he pulled out a bottle of lubricant and started touching himself, with his penis “totally exposed.” He told investigators that he “wanted a release” but that he was not “consciously trying to expose himself.”

He pleaded guilty to indecent exposure on a commercial aircraft and was required to go through two years of supervised probation and to pay a fine.

Drinan, who according to public records now lives in California, did not return a voicemail from The Advocate.

Gerard “Jerry” Howell

Gerard “Jerry” Howell helped open Catholic deaf centers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but dozens of children said he abused them while helping their parents find jobs and earning their trust. He was included in the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ list of priests who were credibly accused of abuse.

Howell was the director of the New Orleans deaf apostolate in 1967 and moved to Baton Rouge in 1978 to help establish the St. Francis de Sales deaf center. The center no longer exists. His brother, Rodney, also a Catholic priest, was also accused of abuse in Texas before his death in 1993.

Rodney Howell also had postings in Louisiana — the two brothers grew up in New Orleans — but it’s not clear if he was ever accused of abuse before the Texas allegations.

Attorney Richard Ducote, who represented multiple victims of Jerry Howell, said it was well-known within the Archdiocese of New Orleans that Howell was abusing children. But Ducote said the late New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan told him at the time that he could not kick out Howell because he would have to pay for Howell’s expenses in another diocese.

“They all knew about Howell,” Ducote added.

He estimated that Jerry Howell abused between 25 and 50 children.

Howell, who is still alive, has not returned messages left by The Advocate. Public records indicate he lives in Texas.

Others and Unknowns

Other priests with ties to Baton Rouge that have been named in previous lists of credibly accused clergy include Jody Blanchard, Pierre Celestian Cambiaire, John Franklin, Lawrence Hecker, Michael Hurley, Ralph Lawrence, Thomas Naughton, Malcolm Strassel and John Weber. It’s unknown how many children they are accused of abusing.

Reached by phone, Blanchard declined to comment. He was a Jesuit priest who was, at one point, assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Baton Rouge. The Jesuit order, which in late 2018 released its own list of credibly accused priests, reported that the allegations against Blanchard were received in the 1980s and that he left the Jesuit order in 1994. The Jesuits also named Thomas J. Naughton, who worked at the Manresa House of Retreats in Convent on their list. Naughton died in 2012.

Hecker, who was removed from ministry in 2002 after a credible accusation in New Orleans, did not return a voicemail message. The remaining priests are dead.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said that during his two terms as DA, he has received a few letters that made allegations about sexual abuse by priests. But none of the claims were specific enough to pursue, he said.

“Had we ever received anything that was actionable, we would have acted on it,” he said.


Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​