What followed over the next few years was the uncovering of an institution riddled with pedophile priests on a national scale and efforts at high levels in the Catholic Church to hide the problem away.
Ray Mouton was a
successful young lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, respected in the
community and blessed with a loving family, when he received a call from
a vicar in the Roman Catholic diocese for a lunch meeting on a fateful
day in 1984.
The diocese asked him to defend
an errant priest, accused of abusing dozens of children in a rural
community. Mouton reluctantly agreed to take on the task.
For Mouton, it meant the end of his law career, health problems, and anger, depression and guilt.
After many years of writing from his self-imposed exile in France,
he finally tells his story in the novel "In God's House". It is a
harrowing read laden with sickening detail, but also for Mouton, a work
"There's not a day I
don't think about the children. When I was writing the book, whenever I
wanted to quit, I thought about the victims and their families," he told
In person, Mouton, now
aged 65, looks like a southern lawyer from central casting, with a head
of thick white hair and a sonorous Louisiana drawl.
chose to tell the story in novel form although the characters, from the
lawyer to a senior Vatican official who proves an obstacle to
addressing the scandal - are based on real figures.
novel is a dramatic experience. My experience was a traumatic one.
Every day there were revelations. I didn't want to believe, the country
didn't want to believe," he said.
and his family - Cajuns whose ancestors came to Louisiana as part of
the Acadian diaspora - were strongly Catholic. His family had donated
land for the cathedral in Lafayette and built schools, churches and a
When he first agreed to defend the priest, Father Gilbert Gauthe, he believed he was dealing with an isolated case.
believed priests were somehow superior. I had never heard of a priest
having sex with a child. I could not believe a Catholic priest could do
this. I thought he was just one then it all unraveled. In that diocese
alone there were a dozen more."
The church preferred to deal with the problem by paying off victims' families. But one family wanted to see justice done.
a lawyer, Mouton believed Gauthe had the right to a fair trial. He soon
realized the church was deeply compromised. It had known about Gauthe's
crimes since his days in seminary but had moved him around various
parishes, where the abuses continued.
The church was in effect harboring criminals, Mouton said.
"I did start out on the side of the church. I couldn't imagine they had foreknowledge," he said.
joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer in the Vatican
Embassy in Washington, and Father Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist
priest who treated sexually deviant clergymen. The two had heard many
other cases across Louisiana and the United States - and attempts to
bury the problem.
had the support of the church hierarchy, they set out on a crusade to
bring it into the open and seek justice for the victims.
spent a year working on a document detailing the scale of the abuse,
the steps the church should take to address it and the consequences if
it did not. It stated that there was a national crisis involving dozens,
if not hundreds, of priests.
"It told them what the deal was - you'll lose 1,000 priests and a billion dollars."
hoped to present the document to the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops for debate. But after a meeting in a Chicago hotel in
1985 with a cardinal, they were told to kill it.
"They put the reputation of the church above the value of the little children. They did all they could to avoid scandal."
FALL FROM GRACE
God's House" details a powerful apparatus at work involving local
politicians, expensive lawyers, insurance companies and bishops. It also
reached into the Vatican, which Mouton says considered the institution
above the law.
It also shows the
devastation of the victims and their families - shame, anger and
frustration as well as physical damage. Many were told that to seek
redress would be disloyal to the church, adding further conflict to
suffered verbal abuse and even death threats in the community for
defending Gauthe. He was accused of trying to extort the church for
He put up an insanity plea for Gauthe but the priest himself insisted he was sane. He was sentenced to 20 years.
a senior jurist in Louisiana involved himself personally in Gauthe's
case. Instead of going to a prison that was a treatment facility for
pedophiles, the priest was sent to a prison where juveniles were held.
He was released after serving only half of his sentence.
was picked up in Texas soon after his release for molesting a
3-year-old boy, but put on probation rather than being sent back to
Mouton's marriage broke up and he became an alcoholic.
"It was a cataclysmic event. It broke me in half. I did fall from grace," he said.
took many years but subsequent events have vindicated Mouton as
widespread sexual abuse by priests came to light across the United
States and the world, from Ireland to Australia.
church and its insurance companies have paid out more than $2 billion
dollars in the United States, bishops have been disgraced, and its
reputation has suffered to the point that the faithful have deserted in
Mouton now lives in southern France close to the Pyrenees with his second wife Melony and travels frequently to Spain, Mexico and other countries.
is still bitter about the cover-ups and that many of those responsible
have never been brought to justice. Nor has the problem been eradicated,
"I don't think we've
reached critical mass on it yet. The question is what can the church do?
The church needs to release all the documents and demand the
resignations of those involved."
novel is dedicated to Scott Anthony Gastal, the first child to testify
in court against a bishop, and to the victims and their families, who,
he says, "were abandoned not by their God, but by their Church".
"I was haunted by my experience. I felt I had to do something," he said.