As church leaders from around the world meet at the Vatican this week to address the clergy sex abuse crisis, they will be hearing the story of a St. Landry parish family that was forever changed by clergy sex abuse.
Letitia Peyton, whose son has accused Father Michael Guidry of molestation, was asked by the Catholic Women’s Forum to write a letter to church leaders. It’s one of three documents the CWF has sent to Pope Francis and bishops across the country in advance of this week’s summit at the Vatican.
“From my words I hope there’s an understanding of what the victims suffer and what their families suffer,” said Peyton. “It’s not something that you just get over. It’s a different kind of sin that goes at the core of the victim’s heart and their families.”
Allegations of abuse
Life changed for the Peyton family in May, 2018. In her letter, Peyton writes about the night her husband Scott, who is a deacon in the Diocese of Lafayette, awoke her to share horrible news.
I immediately knew something was terribly wrong as he could hardly speak through his
sobbing. As he opened his mouth to tell me what was wrong, I asked him to stop. My
heart was beating so hard it felt as if it was going to beat out of my chest. I needed a
minute to pray to be able to clearly understand and accept what I knew was going to be devastating to me. After a few minutes of praying, I told him I was ready to hear what he needed to tell me. But, I wasn’t! He began to tell me that our second son was
molested by Father Mike when he was only 16 years old. The molestation had happened
three years prior to our son coming forward this night.
Father Michael Guidry was the family priest for twelve years, and Peyton’s husband Scott served alongside him at St. Peter’s Church in Morrow.
“For three years following the molestation, we went out to lunch and dinner with Father Mike on a regular basis all the while my son held onto this torment deep inside of him. During this time, Father Mike pretended to care for us and our family as if nothing had ever happened. He was counting on our son to never say a word about what he had done to him. Scott served with Father Mike during Mass as the Eucharist was consecrated next to him not knowing the agony and devastation our son was enduring.”
After a police report was filed, Guidry was brought in for questioning; deputies say he confessed. Months later through a written-plea, Guidry pleaded not guilty.
By this written plea, he is placing himself above common criminals who show up for their arraignments. It is hard as a mother, for me to think about the message this is sending to my children. We, as Catholics, follow the examples of the great saints who gave their lives for their faith, even to death. How do I explain to my children to be heroic when a priest they knew, loved and respected has done the unthinkable to their brother and is now cowardly hiding from or attempting to get out of his inevitable punishment? I would guess that if he were counseling someone on this same crime, he would tell them to act in a way that would be more healing and acceptable to the victimized. Because, again, my son will have his wounds opened and become vulnerable and as a mother, I will only be able to stand by and cry for and with him and console him as a mother consoles her hurt and broken son.
A struggle to remain faithful
In her letter, Peyton writes to church leaders about how the ordeal has affected her family from a spiritual standpoint.
As a mother and wife, I have to look to Our Blessed Mother and her suffering at the
crucifixion of her only Son. In the following weeks, I felt that my faith was lost. I was
completely broken. I had nothing left but Jesus. I felt all alone with him as if I too was at
the foot of the cross. Just me and Jesus and we were abandoned. I had no church to turn to, no priest to spiritually guide me through this. Who could be trusted? How could I decide who was a good priest? Father Mike was what I had told people was a good priest. Obviously, I was able to be fooled. I went from being able to text or call almost any priest in my diocese to not even trusting one of them. This priestly betrayal has placed a great burden on my faith life but pales in comparison to what it has done to the faith life of my son and our family.
The family has remained active in the church, but Peyton acknowledges it hasn’t been easy.
Our family life was centered entirely around our Catholic Faith just eight short months ago. Now, we are struggling just to keep that faith as a family. We will have a lot of explaining to do about why we tried to keep our children in a church of moral decline and corruption and a church that is becoming unsafe for children and in particular boys. As parents, and the first teachers of our children, we too lose credibility in trying to instill a Christian faith in our children unless there is a credible and moral change to the way sexual crimes are dealt with. If nothing is done about the current crisis, I fear my husband and I will watch as our children walk away from the Catholic Church. Please, I beg you, don’t let this be the final paragraph of the story of my family and their Catholic faith.
Calls for change
The Diocese of Lafayette was ground-zero for the church sex abuse crisis in the 1980’s. In 2004, the diocese acknowledged a list of at least 15 priests who have faced credible accusations of sexual abuse involving children. In 2014 then-Bishop Michael Jarrell said he saw “no purpose” in releasing their names. But in 2018, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel announced a change of heart; the diocese would be releasing its list of accused priests.
Months later, the diocese has still not released its list of accused priests. KATC Investigates published its own list, which you can see here .
Peyton admits before this happened to her family she was naive to the scandals in the diocese. She’s now hoping her family’s story will spark in change in the church.
I want my children to say, our mom stood up and worked for change and justice in the church and made a difference. It’s why we remained in the church. I do not want them to say she was cowardly and hid from the corruption that is currently in the church or gave up because it became overwhelming and tiresome. My hope is that I can make a difference by becoming active in advocating for my son and other victims of clerical sexual abuse while helping to root out the evil and corruption that is in my church.