A High Percentage of Proven Priest Predators in Houma, LA

On Behalf of | Feb 3, 2023 | Firm News

Diocese of Houma Horowitz Law

With just 205,000 Catholics, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodoux, Louisiana, is the smallest of the state’s seven dioceses. In fact, out of 177 US dioceses, Houma is ranked 174th in size. Unlike its neighbors to the west (Lafayette Diocese) and the northeast (the New Orleans Archdiocese), Houma hasn’t had even one truly high-profile predator priest. Overall, the percentage of its clergy who have been accused of child sex crimes and/or sexual misconduct doesn’t appear to be massively out of line with expectations given its size, although one can never be sure, given the Catholic hierarchy’s still-largely-steadfast commitment to keeping abusive hidden whenever possible.

In two key ways, however, the Houma Diocese stands out.

  1. It has a disproportionately high percentage of proven predator priests. The diocese admits that six of its priests admitted, were convicted, or pled guilty to sexual abuse
      • Fr. Lawrence Cavel admitted to ‘solicitation of a minor.
      • Fr. Alexander Francisco admitted inappropriate physical contact with a minor.
      • Fr. Dale Guidry pled guilty to online solicitation of a minor and is accused of molestation of a minor.
      • Fr. Patrick R. Kkjawa pled guilty to possession of child pornography.
      • Fr. Robert Melancon was convicted of aggravated rape of a minor.
      • Fr. Carlos Melendez pled guilty to misdemeanor battery against a minor and was deported.

As one would expect, they worked in several Louisiana towns, including Morgan City, Montegut, Houma, Thibodaux, Raceland, Schriever, Galliano, and Cut Off. 

2. The Houma diocese also has a disproportionately high number of still-living predator priests. Eight of its 14 publicly accused child molesting clerics are still alive and, therefore, one must assume, likely risks to unsuspecting neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even family members. They are Fr. Cavel, Fr. Francisco, Fr. Kujawa, Fr. Etienne LeBlanc, Fr. Ramon Luce, Fr. Dac Nguyen, Fr. Daniel Poche and Fr. Gerald Prinz. Perhaps most worrisome is Fr. Kujawa. Last year, he was due to be released from prison. A housekeeper found 220 pornographic photos in his rectory, which lead to his arrest and guilty plea to child pornography charges. His sentence was suspended, but he was arrested again a few years later when more child porn was found at a Benedictine monastery where he lived. Fr. Kujawa’s whereabouts are unknown. In fact, the whereabouts of every one of these clerics are unknown, thanks to Houma-Thibodaux Bishop Shelton J. Fabre and his predecessor Bishop Sam Jacobs. NOTE: Fabre has recently been promoted to be the head of the Louisville, Kentucky archdiocese. Fr. Patrick John Madden is now the temporary ‘administrator’ of the Houma diocese.

Despite repeated pledges to be ‘open’ and ‘transparent’ about child molesting clerics, like so many of their brother bishops, both Febre and Jacobs basically refuse to reveal where most of these men are now. The fact that these men are still living suggests that their crimes are more recent than many and that some – perhaps many – of their victims have yet to come forward. Research shows that, on average, child sex abuse survivors suffer in silence until age 42.

A few other observations:

  1. Bishop Fabre also included a somewhat vague and unusual category of accused priests on his website: those who face ‘credible allegations of serious and unacceptable conduct with minors, ranging from inappropriate physical contact of a minor to molestation of a minor.’ Three clerics purportedly fit this description: Fr. Gerard Kinane of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Fr. Ramon Luce of the Diocese of San Pablo in the Philippines, and Fr. Claude Boudreaux (a Jesuit).
  2. Several predator priests are from or went elsewhere, including Fr. Francisco and Fr. Ramon Luce (both from the Philippines), Fr. Carlos Melendez was returned by federal immigration authorities to El Salvador, and Fr. Kinane was from Arkansas and worked in Pennsylvania and Florida.
  3. Houma’s bishop also has a separate category for priests who “are the subject of credible allegations of sexual molestation of a minor that was the subject of civil litigation.” They include Fr. LeBlanc, Fr. Prinz, and Fr. Bernard Schmaltz.
  4. These facts and factors suggest that Houma Catholic officials have a lot of work ahead if they genuinely want to help survivors and protect kids. This is especially true because, historically, it’s been tougher for victims in rural areas to step forward than those in more urban areas.
  5. If Houma church officials were to seek out abuse survivors aggressively, fewer would respond than he might expect because of the diocesan ‘victims assistance coordinator.’ Unfortunately, Bishop Fabre gave this role to a nun, Sister Carmelita Centanni. Catholic prelates endlessly talk of ‘restoring the faith’ of their flock since the abuse crisis has shattered the belief of so many. But how can anyone believe a bishop has ‘reformed’ if he insists on having a nun or priest field abuse reports instead of an experienced, compassionate, and more independent layperson?

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or email sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.