Bishop reassures congregation

Bishop Michael Jarrell is continuing to stand by the Rev. Gilbert Dutel, the priest accused of molesting a boy in Vermilion Parish in the 1970s.

Jarrell also confirmed that Dutel was accused by a parent in 1993 of abusing a boy, a complaint that was quickly discounted because the timeline didn’t add up.

“I know it’s been very painful for many of you,” Jarrell told St. Edmond Catholic Church parishioners on Sunday about the recent spate of stories about Dutel. “Most of what you read was old stuff.”

Dutel, who is pastor at St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette, has been identified in a now-unsealed federal lawsuit as a priest who allegedly molested a boy in the mid- to late-1970s in Vermilion Parish. The victim, who has not been identified, made the accusation in 1992. Jarrell has said then-Bishop Harry Flynn conducted an inquiry that exonerated Dutel. However, the diocese does not have documents confirming any investigation that cleared Dutel.

Jarrell, who heads the Diocese of Lafayette, also said in an email this week that in 1993 there was an accusation against Dutel made directly to Flynn. Jarrell said a father accused Dutel of molesting his son when the boy was 8 or 9 years old. But the alleged victim in 1993 was 39 years old, Jarrell said, too old to have been molested by Dutel.

“Father Dutel was not a priest or a seminarian at the time of the alleged incident,” Jarrell said in the email. “Bishop Flynn decided that the timeline made the accusation impossible.”

Jarrell added that he knows “of no other accusations of abuse of a minor against Father Dutel.”

At St. Edmond on Sunday, Jarrell told parishioners the 1980s saga of pedophile priests in Acadiana was an embarrassment to Catholics. He said the Catholic Church’s 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People also contained an apology for the church’s role in having pedophile priests in pulpits.

Jarrell said, however, that there have been no known instances of priests attacking children since 1984. He said all the accusations leveled at the clergy were for incidents that occurred during or before the early 1980s.

“The allegations are always of the past,” Jarrell said, according to a video of the service posted on the church’s website.

Dutel also talked to St. Edmond parishioners Sunday, thanking them in a prepared statement for the support they’ve given him and proclaiming his innocence.

“Let me assure you that I have not been a threat to young people in this parish or any other parish in which I have served as a priest or anywhere else,” Dutel said.

Dutel and Flynn were part of a long, detailed news series crafted by Minnesota Public Radio. The series zeroed in on Flynn’s role in pedophile priest scandals in Minnesota and Louisiana. After he was bishop in Lafayette, Flynn was sent to Minnesota to deal with the scandal up there.

The MPR series prompted the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests to call for Dutel’s suspension from the pulpit.

Much of the MPR story was based on information from a federal lawsuit that the Diocese of Lafayette filed against its insurance broker, Arthur Gallagher. Documents in the lawsuit include a 10-page statement made by the man who claimed Dutel molested him.

The man, who was 26 in 1992, said Dutel started molesting him at age 9 or 10, and stopped around the time he became a high school freshman. The victim also said the Rev. David Primeaux and the Rev. Lane Fontenot, two other Vermilion parish priests later outed as pedophiles, started molesting him in the early 1980s.

Fontenot, Primeaux and the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, who is considered the worst of the pedophile priests in south Louisiana during the ’80s, are three of the known priests who preyed on trusting youths and relied on trusting parents.

Jarrell in 2004 issued a statement that said there was a total of 15 priests responsible for molesting kids before 1984. Gauthe, Primeaux and Fontenot are known to be on that list, but Jarrell has refused to identify the remaining 12 priests the diocese knows were pedophiles.

Jarrell this week declined to sit for a face-to-face interview with The Advocate.