Two months ago, a Catholic deacon in the Lafayette Louisiana diocese, Shawn Jude Gautreaux, was placed on leave after having been accused of child sexual abuse.
He’s the latest alleged predator in a diocese with the longest chronological list of child molesters in the United States.
The Lafayette diocese, as you may know, is where the nation’s first abusive cleric was publicly exposed and sued. The priest was Fr. Gilbert Gauthe. The year was 1985.
Out of nearly 200 dioceses in the country, the Lafayette diocese earned that distinction – the first to ‘achieve’ national attention on one of its pedophile priests – largely because of one brave, pioneering investigative journalist, Jason Berry.
Berry is largely an unsung hero. But recently he got a modicum of the recognition and respect he deserves in a short but moving documentary on the New York Times website.
In its introduction to the video, the Times writes that the Boston Globe’s “shocking revelations” in 2002 about abuse and cover up in that diocese “came out of nowhere, almost like a bolt of lightning.”
“But the sobering reality,” the Times noted “is that this bolt of lightning had been striking for at least 15 years.”
That’s because of Berry. In 1985, he wrote his first piece on child sexual abuse in the church, for the National Catholic Reporter and the Times of Acadiana.
Later, in 1992, he wrote a book called “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” and appeared on national TV shows like “Donahue” and “Oprah,” arguing that child sexual abuse had become “the Watergate of the Catholic Church.”
He exposed one of the church’s most powerful and notorious predators, Fr. Marcial Maciel.
Berry also produced a documentary about Maciel.
And he wrote another book examining convoluted and corrupt Vatican finances.
So Berry deserves recognition, respect and gratitude for both his impressive early investigations into callous clergy and for his dogged determination, over decades, to deepen our understanding of this on-going scandal.
We at Horowitz Law encourage anyone who wants to really get a grip on this horror in Catholicism to check out Berry’s incredible work.
Going back to the recently accused Lafayette deacon, the local newspaper in Lafayette reported that it was waiting for this information from diocesan officials:
—Whether the alleged abuse occurred once or multiple times,
—Age of the alleged victim, and
—Decade the alleged abuse occurred.
Think about that for a minute. Neither Lafayette Catholic Bishop Doug Deshotel, nor anyone on his staff, would even disclose during which ten-year period Gautreaux allegedly violated a child, or roughly what age that child reportedly was, or whether the purported crime happened one time or a hundred times.
At a bare minimum, this suggests that church officials haven’t yet been very forthcoming about this case, and that is the rosiest way to put it.
A more cynical view: the one diocese in America that’s had the longest time (and perhaps a great incentive) to truly reform still refuses to reform.
The diocese has, at least, released the names of clergymen — priests and deacons — accused of sexually abusing children and vulnerable adults.”
But it was the last Louisiana diocese to disclose the identities of those deemed to have been credibly accused.” And “unlike other dioceses across the state and the country, Lafayette only released the priest’s name, the year they were born, the date they were ordained, churches where they served and their current status.”
Again, one would expect far more from a diocese that’s had decades to learn from its tragic mishandling of the Gauthe cases and subsequent cases.
And finally, getting back to Jason Berry, let’s give credit where credit is due: his groundbreaking and courageous work ‘outed’ or help out’ a number of other Louisiana predator priests besides Gauthe, including Fr. Lane Fontenot, Fr. John Engbers, Fr. Valerie Pullman and Fr. Robert Limoges.
More importantly, it broke decades of silence and cover up about the church’s massive abuse and cover up crisis, and both inspired and instructed other reporters and editors to belatedly take a critical look at what was long considered a societal sacred cow: the powerful and secretive Catholic hierarchy.