The Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux on Friday identified 14 priests who have admitted or are suspected by church officials of a wide range of sexual misconduct with minors, from possession of child pornography to rape.
Bishop Shelton Fabre’s disclosure marked the third time in as many months that a diocese or religious order has published what amounts to an official church roster of alleged abusers in Louisiana ministries.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans released a similar list of 57 disgraced clergymen in early November, while the Jesuit order that oversees priests and other order members in Louisiana released its own list of 42 names last month, including 19 who worked in the New Orleans area.
The disclosures are part of a nationwide reckoning by Catholic leaders attempting to restore trust with parishioners whose faith in the church has been strained by a sexual abuse scandal well into its second decade.
The latest wave of the scandal hit the U.S. with the July release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified hundreds of credibly accused Catholic priests and thousands of victims there — revealing a problem many times larger in scope than previously documented.
Four of the names revealed Friday by the Houma-Thibodaux diocese had previously appeared on the list published by the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Several other priests named on Friday’s list were subjects of earlier news accounts about their alleged crimes against children and teens.
Four of the clergymen named have died. The whereabouts of two are unknown, and the rest are not “in current active ministry in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux,” according to church officials.
Fabre apologized in a letter addressed to the 42-year-old diocese’s flock of about 90,000 Catholics, writing that “egregious sins" occurred and that there had been a “failure to adequately respond.”
“I am fully aware that the words ‘I’m sorry’ ring hollow in light of what you have endured, but I apologize on behalf of the Church for damages caused by any cleric who has sinned,” said Fabre, who was previously an auxiliary bishop in New Orleans and now leads the fourth-largest of Louisiana’s seven dioceses.
“I apologize if victims and their families ever felt shunned by the church or if any bishop at any time failed to listen to them,” Fabre said.
But, as has been common with these releases, the church’s mea culpa Friday quickly came under fire over what the list didn’t include.
The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux on Friday named six Catholic priests who admitted or were convicted of sexual misconduct with children as well …
Missing from the list are specifics about the number of victims who had lodged credible accusations against each cleric, or when the alleged abuse occurred.
Though a number of the cases had previously been documented in lawsuits, media reports and the watchdog website bishopaccountability.org, information on other clergy wasn’t readily available.
Victims' advocates argue that such omissions complicate efforts to determine whether all victims who require help have gotten it, failing the spirit of transparency that the church says it has embraced since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in earnest in Boston in 2002.
“They are continuing the practice of not completely informing parishioners, of being inconsistent by not being fully transparent, and not informing or helping or ensuring the safety of the community,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Lennon on Friday pointed to a scathing report by Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Illinois, who found that Catholic officials there undercounted the number of clergy with credible allegations against them by about 500 priests.
Fabre’s letter invited anyone who has suffered unreported abuse to contact victims’ assistance coordinator Sister Carmelita Centanni.
The list of alleged clergy sex abusers that New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond released on Friday has foisted difficult questions on local …
Additionally, Fabre said his diocese compiled its list in consultation with a lay review board headed by retired state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Morris Lottinger Jr. and composed of other law enforcement, legal, medical and social service professionals.
The bishops of all five of the state's other dioceses — including those based in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Lake Charles and Shreveport — have said they plan to release similar lists.
At least six of the clergymen on the list spent time at Morgan City’s Holy Cross Catholic Church.
They include Lawrence Cavell, who admitted to church leaders that he solicited a minor for sex; Alexander Francisco, who admitted to inappropriately touching a child; and the late Dale Guidry, who pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor online.
The others are Patrick Kujawa, convicted of child pornography possession; Etienne LeBlanc, accused of raping an altar boy; and Daniel Poche, accused of unspecified misconduct with at least one minor.
Four were at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral in Houma: Cavell, Kujawa, Poche and Gerald Prinz, who was also accused of raping a boy.
Of the allegations in the litany of complaints, the most harrowing included testimony by the late Rev. Robert Melancon, a priest ordained in 1962 who served at Annunziata Church in Houma, Sacred Heart in Cut Off and St. Genevieve in Thibodaux before being convicted of molestation in 1996 after prosecutors accused him of a “pattern of abuse.”
Melancon was convicted of aggravated rape after a jury found him guilty of repeatedly molesting an altar boy of Annunziata, allegedly raping him once a month or every couple of months over a period of nearly six years, starting when the boy was 9.
During the highly publicized trial, Melancon admitted to having an active sexual relationship with another 12-year-old boy while serving as a pastor of St. Genevieve in Thibodaux in the late 1970s and early 80s, according to several reports.
At the time, the case involving the Thibodaux youth was too old to be prosecuted in court. However, the boy’s mother settled a civil claim made with the diocese for $30,000 before Melancon was transferred — a move that critics at the time said placed other children in danger, according to a report in the Houma Times.
Some of the priests listed Friday had parishioners who supported them even after the allegations arose.
Kujawa’s flock paid his $100,000 bail after his arrest in 2000 on 62 counts of possession of child pornography. He went on to plead guilty to 15 counts, receiving a suspended sentence.
But four years later, federal investigators searched Kujawa’s home and found hundreds of photos and videos containing “hardcore” child pornography, court records show.
He pleaded guilty in the federal case, too, and has remained behind bars since then. He currently lives at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson and is due for release in 2022.
In a move aimed at restoring trust with parishioners amid the clergy abuse scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church, the Jesuit order on …