The Church On Trial: Part 1

Rage In Louisiana

Thursday morning, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in America will be in Dallas for what many believe will be one of the most important meetings in the long history of the Church. In Boston, New York, Los Angeles-nearly every major American city-priests are under investigation for committing sex crimes against children, and bishops are being sued for facilitating those crimes.

But perhaps the most shocking thing about these scandals is how long they've been going on. Pedophile priests shifted from one parish to another? It's happened before. Bishops covering up sexual assaults on children? It's happened before. Hiding documents, blaming the victims, secrecy agreements? It's all happened before.

Why is it taking the Roman Catholic leadership so long to make the church safe for its children? Ed Bradley found some answers in Louisiana, in a case that could have taught the Church nearly everything it needed to know about that - 19 years ago.

Southwest Louisiana is Cajun country - bayous, rice farms, and hundreds of small country churches. In this part of the country, nearly everyone is Catholic, and few would question the authority of the Church. It was here, in Vermillion Parish, that Father Gilbert Gauthe molested scores of children.

"Father Gauthe was the first pedophile priest ever brought to trial in the United States, and he was my client," says Ray Mouton, who was 37 and a staunch Catholic when the Diocese of Lafayette asked him to defend Father Gauthe.

"My family founded the town, my family gave the land where the Cathedral sits in Lafayette. I was as Catholic as you can come, fifth generation," he says.

He had never handled a case like this before. "I never even heard of anybody like Gilbert Gauthe before this," he says.

In 1984, Father Gauthe was indicted on 34 counts of sex crimes against children. But his superiors in the Church had known about his crimes for 10 years. Gauthe molested his first victims in Broussard, Louisiana, where he was associate pastor at a Church near an elementary school. When the Bishop learned what Gauthe had done, he told him to confess his sins, and the bishop never mentioned it again. But the abuse continued at his next parish, and so did the complaints.

Then Gauthe was moved to Abbeville Louisiana. After two different assignments where he had problems with having sex with young boys, the bishop appointed him as chaplain for the Boy Scouts.

Then Father Gauthe got a promotion. He became pastor at two country churches, in Esther and nearby Henry. He was the only priest there.

"He set altar boy practice for early in the morning and then he would tell a parent it's not necessary for you to drive all the way from your farmhouse to bring your child to practice, he can spend the night at the rectory. And he would have these slumber parties. Four and five kids over four, five, six nights a week."

What did he do with these boys? "Every sexual act you can imagine two males doing," Mouton says.

For five years, none of Father Gauthe's altar boys talked about what was happening at the Church at night. Then one of them decided he couldn't keep silent any longer.

Check back at 8 p.m. for the rest of the story!

The Church On Trial: Part 2