Attorney: Lafayette bishop again employs deny, deflect defense in priest abuse case

As a priest in 1982, Michael Jarrell lived under the same church roof with pedophile priest David Primeaux, yet he saw and heard nothing that hinted at Primeaux’s predatory side, Jarrell claimed in a deposition.

Jarrell at the time headed Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Broussard, and Primeaux lived in the rectory alongside Jarrell. Yet Jarrell claimed he didn’t associate with the man that much and knew little about him.

“At any time while you were with the Diocese of Lafayette, did you obtain any information that David (Primeaux) had been accused of molesting any children, young boys?” Abbeville attorney Anthony Fontana asked Jarrell during a 1998 deposition.

“No, no,” Jarrell says in the court document, which contains answers by Jarrell throughout of “I don’t recall,” “no recollection at all” and plain “no.”

Jarrell, now bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette, and the Catholic Church hierarchy he represents again are employing a we-knew-nothing defense in the wake of new allegations against a priest, Fontana said.

The bishop is defending the Rev. Gilbert Dutel, priest at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette, who in a Minnesota Public Radio project and in now-uncovered court records is accused of molesting a boy for years in the mid- to late 1970s.

“(Jarrell’s) not going to say anything. He’s not going to turn another priest in,” Fontana said. “This is a cover-up.”

Fontana has sued dioceses across Louisiana on behalf of sexual abuse victims, including those molested by Primeaux in the Sacred Heart rectory.

“(Jarrell) lived with the guy (Primeaux); he saw these kids there,” Fontana said.

Diocese spokesman Monsignor Richard Greene said Friday that Jarrell was unavailable for comment.

Father Dutel was named in a now-unsealed federal lawsuit alleging he is one of more than a dozen south Louisiana priests the diocese knew or should have known preyed on kids, mostly boys. Dutel, 69, this past week maintained his innocence.

Fontana and others claim the Catholic Church’s way of dealing with a sex scandal, back when the pedophile priest stories exploded in the 1980s and now, is to deny and deflect.

Attorneys for insurance broker Arthur Gallagher claim in the federal lawsuit that the Lafayette Diocese long knew about rogue priests.

“The extent of the diocese’s prior knowledge is quite incredible, and the evidence of it is drawn from thousands of documents … hundreds of deposition transcripts of molestations, victims’ family members, treating psychologists and psychiatrists and documentary evidence,” Gallagher attorneys wrote.

On Thursday, Jarrell said he might convene the diocese’s confidential review board to look over the Dutel case.

But what would the board review? The diocese says it has no reports on file of its purported 1992 investigation of Dutel, and Jarrell has said there would be no new investigation.

Jarrell in his career has been in the epicenter of Louisiana’s pedophile priest era.

In 1982, while he headed Sacred Heart in Broussard, Jarrell also was the Lafayette Diocese’s vicar general, a high-ranking position that answers to the bishop. Jarrell said in court documents that he was never asked to deal with sex-abusing priests at the time.

“Never was sexual abuse singled out, or was I told, ‘If there’s sexual abuse, you need to look into it,’ ” Jarrell said.

But his roommate for six months in 1982, Primeaux, turned out to be one of Acadiana’s more infamous pedophiles.

Primeaux’s sexual appetite for young men and boys followed him from St. Joseph’s Seminary in St. Benedict, where he was accused of trying to molest his students in 1978 and was fired. From there he went to Sacred Heart in Broussard and eventually to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Milton, where he continued sex attacks on boys. Primeaux left the church in 1985. In December 2012, he committed suicide in Virginia, where he had made a new life, after being confronted about his pedofile past.

In 1993, Jarrell became bishop for the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, where the church also was plagued by pedophile priests. Former priest Robert Melancon in 1996 was convicted of aggravated rape and remains in prison on a life sentence.

Another priest, the Rev. Albert Bergeron, was to spend time in jail for withholding information in the Melancon case. But he received a suspended sentence after Jarrell intervened, asking state district Judge Paul Wimbish to order Bergeron to undergo psychiatric treatment instead of 10 months in jail.

Jarrell said then that he stood by his decision to intervene.