The existence of a list of accused priests was first confirmed in 2004 by then-Bishop Michael Jarrell, as the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis gained national attention.
“We’re dealing with it in a forthright manner and admitting our faults and mistakes,” Jarrell said in a 2004 interview with KATC. “We’re striving to do all that we can in the future.”
Jarrell’s tenure began at a time when the church promised reform on clergy sex abuse, but under his leadership, there are questions if that promise was kept.
In uncovering our list, KATC found at least three cases in Jarrell’s time as bishop, where the diocese was aware of complaints against living priests; there is no record police were notified, until only recently in one of them.
Gerard Smit was accused of sexual abuse in Lafayette, Calcasieu and St. Landry parishes. Records obtained by KATC, including his personnel file with the diocese, show one of his accusers, Roy Touchet, complained at least three times.
“No one believed us, because the priests were almighty, the bishops were almighty, the cardinals knew about it,” Touchet said. “They just didn’t want to do anything. They just covered them up.”
Louisiana State Police only got involved in 2015, when Touchet filed a formal complaint.
Next, a lawsuit against Father Marshall Larriviere in 2003. Larriviere was accused of sexual abuse in the 1960’s at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Abbeville. The case was settled in 2004. There is no record law enforcement was notified.
Msgr. Robie Robichaux was placed on leave in October 2018, after two women came forward accusing him of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers; the initial accuser went to the diocese in both 1994 and 2004. Despite her accusations, Robichaux was allowed to stay in ministry, work in schools, and was even promoted within the diocese to the post of judicial vicar.
Robichaux was reported to police by the diocese late last week.
Because the initial accuser was 16 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, in 2004 former Bishop Michael Jarrell sought advice from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about whether she was considered a minor or an adult.
Under canon law, in 1979 someone who was 16 years old was considered an adult in the eyes of the church; under state law, she would have been considered a minor. Jarrell sided with the church.
“The matter also should have been referred to the layperson sexual abuse review board, which was standard practice at the time according to the Charter and the Norms, to advise [Bishop Jarrell] whether or not Monsignor Robichaux would have been suitable for ministry,” said Deshotel at a news conference in October.
While Jarrell’s handling of the case may have violated church policy, what about state law?
“If the abuse has already passed, the ways the laws are written, there’s really no obligation to report that,” said LSU Law Professor Ken Levy.
Although members of the clergy are mandated reporters, Levy says those state laws are limited to current, ongoing abuse.
“Where the legislature really needs to think hard about revising is with the mandatory reporting,” said Levy. “The state has to be the one to deal with this, it can’t be the church and right now the laws are written in such a way that they still give too much deference to the church.”
At the October news conference announcing accusations against Robichaux, Bishop Deshotel would not take questions, instead, members of the media were asked to submit questions via e-mail.
Among our questions for the diocese: Was Bishop Jarrell’s response in 2004 appropriate? Is there any accountability? Does Bishop Jarrell have a statement?
January 14th marks 14 weeks since that news conference, and still no answers from the diocese.
How to get help
KATC recognizes that hearing these stories will trigger memories and anguish for victims.
If you’ve been the victim of a sexual assault and you need help, there is help available.
We’ve put together a list of locations to find help, and numbers to call for help. You can find it here.
If you believe that a crime has been committed, please call your local law enforcement, or dial 911.
Contact the investigative team:
Jim Hummel – Jim.Hummel@katctv.com
Wynce Nolley – Wynce.Nolley@katctv.com
Angie Simoneaux – Angie.Simoneaux@katctv.com
Letitia Walker – Letitia.Walker@katctv.com