George David Gensler

A man once described as a "crusading priest-cop coming to the Cajuns' rescue" now stands accused of sexual abuse from his time as a priest 40 years ago in Ascension Parish.

George Gensler, a diocesan priest and former police officer in New Orleans and Lafayette, was among 37 Roman Catholic clergy members identified Thursday by the Diocese of Baton Rouge as being credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or a vulnerable adult.

In law enforcement and in the church, Gensler portrayed himself as a hard-liner and a rule-follower, willing to blast those with different points of view. In 1976, Gensler put himself in the middle of a dispute between Lafayette's mayor and police chief, claiming the mayor was interfering by trying to get him to negate gambling charges against someone he arrested twice in six months for the same offense, the Times-Picayune reported.

"It was an abomination of law enforcement work," Gensler proclaimed, describing his view of the mayor's interference.

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And as a spiritual director for a diocesan prep school in Baton Rouge, Gensler blasted former New Orleans Archbishop Philip Hannan. Gensler claimed Hannan improperly interceded on behalf of the now-disgraced progressive Rev. Dan Drinan during the then-Claretian priest's tumultuous tenure at LSU's Christ the King Catholic Student Center. Former Baton Rouge Bishop Joseph Sullivan removed Drinan from Baton Rouge in 1979 amid the fallout. Both Drinan and Sullivan were also revealed Thursday to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. 

"The lines of the church and in the history of the church are being drawn in the diocese," The Advocate quoted Gensler as saying in a morning Mass in 1979. "We must start raising our flag and our colors as in the days of old of battle. And to make it known whether we stand with the church or against it, whether we will follow a person into cultism or we'll follow Jesus Christ into Heaven."

Throughout his life, Gensler served in positions of utmost trust and authority, both in law enforcement and as a priest. He began his career as a New Orleans Police officer before turning to the seminary, being ordained in the Diocese of Lafayette in 1970, according to news archives. There, he worked as a chaplain with the Lafayette Police Department. But in 1973, he decided to reclaim his place on the streets as a regular officer.

When Gensler was sworn in as an officer with the Lafayette Police Department, then-chief Roland Dart said Gensler, an ordained priest, would make a great addition to the force.

Dart told The Advocate in 1973 that Gensler would perform the usual functions of a police officer, but he planned to take advantage of Gensler's specialized training that would make him useful in youth programs. 

It isn't known whether Gensler committed any sexual abuse while he was in Lafayette or New Orleans. Neither the New Orleans Police Department nor the Lafayette Police Department responded to requests for comment by Thursday evening. Gensler died in 2016.

According to the list from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Gensler was first reported to the diocese in February 1994 for abuse that occurred in the late 1970s while Gensler was a priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Darrow. That 1994 report appears to have led to his ouster, as he was removed from the ministry that same year.

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But recent allegations indicate the extent of Gensler's abuse may not be known.

Just three months ago, another person came forward to the diocese to report Gensler had abused them during the late 1970s, the diocese said. 

At a news conference Thursday, Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca said several people have come forward recently to tell their stories about being abused, perhaps for the first time. Some of those stories were about priests who were known to the church already.

Duca encouraged more survivors to share their stories. 

"We want to talk about this, and we want victims who have not come forward to come forward," Duca said.

Gensler served as the priest at St. Anthony of Padua from 1979 to 1994, according to the church's website. He also served at Our Lady of Mercy in Baton Rouge and as a spiritual director at St. Joseph Cathedral Preparatory Diocesan Seminary, where Gensler would have interacted with teenage boys. At least one of the three men who said former Baton Rouge Bishop Joseph Sullivan abused them alleged that his abuse happened at the same seminary, which closed in 1978.

Rev. Keun-Soo Lee, the current priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Darrow, said he was not aware of the abuse until the diocese released the list Thursday. He said the parishioners were informed today when Duca released the list, but he had not received any calls about it as of midafternoon.

"Personally, I have no idea what the heck was going on at that time," Lee said.

Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.