Admittedly, it might be a bit of a broad stroke when we talk about regional characteristics in the context of generous, gumbo-loving, and lively Louisiana. It could be a narrow, unfair assumption by those of us who live and work in a diverse coastal area like Miami; however, many share the perception that the South is more insular and isolated than other parts of the nation, with fewer immigrants and fewer families moving in and out of the region. You may be thinking, “What does this have to do with clergy sex crimes and cover-ups?” But bear with me on this one – because we’ve got something serious to get into, and it involves a dark side of Louisiana most wouldn’t dare to broach.
Are Louisiana’s Clergy Shuffling About More Than Usual?
Our recent research here at Horowitz Law is making us re-examine this view because our examination of predator priests in largely rural Louisiana seems to show a disproportionate percentage of clerics from elsewhere being sent to this region. We can’t help but suspect it may also be true of other less-urban parts of the South.
Sure, it sounds like idle speculation, but here’s the kicker: there’s a pattern of clerics from abroad getting shipped in, committing heinous deeds, and then conveniently disappearing. It’s a magic trick that wouldn’t look out of place at a Vegas show, minus the glitter and glamour.
Heads up, though: anyone in Louisiana who’s been a victim of sexual abuse by the clergy has a golden opportunity to bring those responsible to justice. Irrespective of when it happened, you can now file lawsuits against the perps. Kudos to you, brave ones. But do keep in mind there’s a time limit for this, so don’t dawdle.
The Hidden Truth
Sadly, because there have been relatively fewer civil abuse lawsuits in the state, much information about Louisiana child molesting clerics remains hidden. Though BishopAccountability.org has been a stalwart source of information, much of the content presents merely snippets rather than comprehensive dossiers about these men and their crimes.
For instance, at least five ‘celebrity’ clerics from the Lafayette Diocese responsible for child molestation are given brief mentions but nothing more. It says vague phrases like“Named publicly as accused by the diocese on its list in 2019. Resigned in 1994.” They are Deacon Willis Broussard, Fr. Herbert de Launay, Fr. David Anderson Coupar, and Fr. Michael DesJardins.You’d find more detailed character profiles of nobodies on a fantasy football forum!
The Travelling Circus of Predator Priests
Even with the limited information, we can still scrape together a picture. Let’s do a quick roll call of some of the predator priests from all over who ended up in Louisiana at some point:
- Fr. Maria Susai Arul– A native of India, worked in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Alabama.
- Fr. Jody P. Blanchard breezed through California, Texas, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans.
- Fr. John Anthony Mary Engbers fled to Holland after he was sued for molesting a 3 or 4-year-old girl. At first, he reportedly admitted the abuse with the pastor present. But he was moved to another church. He also worked in the Lake Charles area.
- Fr. N. Wilfred DesRosiers spent time in Canada and also in Texas and Baltimore (and reportedly victimized four kids in Louisiana).
- For no apparent reason, nine years after being ordained a priest in the Netherlands, Fr. John A. de Leeuw shows up in the Lafayette Diocese, where he reportedly abuses a girl and most of her six siblings.
- Fr. Gerard C. Smit was ordained in the Netherlands and later sent to New Mexico, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.
- Fr. Jean-Baptiste Toussaint also spent time in Canada and Haiti.
- Fr. Adrian Walter Van Hal is another Dutch predator priest who worked in Lafayette.
This variety pack of predator priests doesn’t stop there. A bunch of them hail from right here in the U.S. and have made pit stops in several states, from Washington and New Mexico to North Carolina and Florida. They include Fr. Ronald Lane (a.k.a. Jean Paul) Fontenot (Washington and New Mexico), Fr. Gilbert Gauthe (Texas), Deacon Louis Hanemann (North Carolina), Fr. Marshall R. Larriviere (Florida), Fr. Robert Marcel Limoges (California and the Baton Rouge diocese), Fr. Joseph F. Pellettieri (also spelled Pelletieri, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria and Wisconsin), Sr. Cheryl A. Porte (Illinois, Missouri and New Orleans), Fr. Donald Raymond Pousson (Missouri), Fr. Valerie Pullman (Lake Charles) and Fr. Charles J. Zaunbrecher (Alabama).
The diabolically high number of clergy comings and goings is deeply concerning. It’s like a wicked game of musical chairs, and the stakes are much, much higher. The real number of imported and exported predators will almost certainly never be known, of course, mainly because church officials remain secretive about all aspects of the abuse and cover-up crisis.
Is Lafayette the Exception or the Rule?
Let’s shift focus to an even smaller diocese – the Baton Rouge Diocese. Pretty quickly, the same pattern emerges:
- Fr. John Joseph Berube worked in Canada and in Boston.
- Fr. Carmelo Ignatius Camenzuli was a native of Peru.
- Fr. Alphonse Rodrigue Hemond worked in Canada, Rhode Island, and Texas.
- Fr. Mansour Labaky founded a children’s choir and orphanages for children in Lebanon and France.
And as with Lafayette, the Baton Rouge Diocese has a number of predator priests who’ve been moved domestically, from one part of the US to or from rural Louisiana. They include Fr. Clyde Bernard Landry (New Mexico), Fr. Christopher Joseph Springer (Texas), and Fr. Henry Neubig (New Orleans), among others.
The ‘Why’ Behind the Movements
Now for the million-dollar question: why does this happen? As we see it, there are at least three possible explanations for this somewhat unusual coming and going of abusive clerics.
- We could chalk it down to coincidence. Stranger things have happened.
- Or perhaps it’s bishops trying to play hide-and-seek with the law and quietly moving predators elsewhere, trying to stay ahead of the police, prosecutors, parents, or outraged parishioners when a child sex crime is reported or suspected.
- It’s also plausible that church officials in rural areas like Louisiana have a particularly tough time recruiting, training, ordaining, and retaining Catholic priests, so they are more apt to ‘overlook’ red flags or troubling behaviors because they feel such pressure to keep parishes open by finding more priests.
Who can really say? Truthfully, the ‘why’ doesn’t matter as much as we’d think. Two things are pretty certain, however. First, because the Catholic hierarchy remains so firmly fixated on secrecy, we’ll likely never really know why there seem to be more priests from elsewhere, especially overseas, coming and going in rural Louisiana. Second, the more priests coming and going in and out of smaller rural parishes – increases both the risk of abuse AND the risk that the abusers will evade justice. The movement of so many predator priests significantly elevates the risk of abuse and allows abusers to slip through the cracks of justice.
Regardless, any victims of these clerics in Louisiana now have a real shot at exposing these criminals, protecting others, and obtaining some semblance of justice. But please, don’t wait too long. The clock’s ticking!
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, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.