Great Lives from History: Notorious Lives
Identity: American priest and pedophile
Born: 1945; Napoleonville, Louisiana
Major Offenses: Eleven counts of aggravated crimes against nature;
eleven counts of committing sexually immoral acts;
eleven counts of taking pornographic photographs of juveniles; and
a single count of aggravated rape, sodomizing a child under the age
Locale: Broussard, New Iberia, Abbeville, and Henry, Louisiana
Sentence: Twenty years in prison; served ten years
Born in 1945, Gilbert Gauthe (GO-tay) grew up near Napoleonville, Louisiana. He attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette (now known as the University of Louisiana, Lafayette) before attending Immaculate Junior Seminary for one year. He transferred to Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, where he completed his theological studies. While a seminarian, he was active with various youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, and was well liked by the families of children with whom he worked. Gauthe was ordained by the Roman Catholic Church in 1971. He served several churches within the Diocese of Lafayette, where he was popular with both children and adult parishioners.
Gauthe's career as a pedophile spans that of his entire priesthood. He admitted that he began having sexual contact with children in 1971, the year of his ordination. While serving as an associate pastor in Broussard, Louisiana, from 1971 to 1973, he molested at least four boys. He was confronted by parents of those boys and, consequently, sought psychiatric help. He received approximately eight sessions of therapy before being transferred in late 1973 to a church in New Iberia, Louisiana, where he admitted to molesting sixteen boys. In 1976 he was once again transferred to another church--this time in Abbeville, Louisiana--where he served until 1977. Gauthe admitted to molesting boys at this church before receiving his final transfer to a church in Henry, Louisiana, where he admitted to molesting twenty-two boys before being suspended from pastoral duties in 1983. Gauthe, unsure of his final victim count, readily admitted to at least three dozen; other estimates place this number closer to one hundred.
Legal Action and Outcome
Gauthe entered a plea of guilty to thirty-four counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of child pornography. At least twenty-five civil lawsuits were filed against the Diocese of Lafayette, claiming that it failed to protect the public. In response, the diocese opted to thwart Gauthe's actions by moving his first-floor bedroom to the second floor of the rectory, so boys could not climb in and out of windows, and instructed Gauthe to make confession and pray. More than twenty-two million dollars were paid to plaintiffs.
Gilbert Gauthe's trial marked the first time in U.S. history that the details of a priest's alleged sexual abuse of children were made widely public. His trial served as a test case for prosecuting pedophiliac priests. After his conviction, dozens of other priests in Louisiana and around the United States were accused of child molestation, and various dioceses were sued for alleged coverups and gross negligence in handling decades of abuse allegations. In 1986, Gauthe's attorney, along with two priests, drafted a document informing the Roman Catholic Church how best to address allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and estimating its prevalence and potential monetary damage. This document was presented to the U.S. Conference of Church Bishops in 1986 but was not taken up by Church authorities until 2002.
Berry, Jason. Lead Us Not into Temptation: Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children. New York: Doubleday Press, 1992. An authoritative examination of both the Gauthe case and church policy on celibacy and homosexuality.
Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe newspaper. Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002. A chronicle of the events that led up to an international crisis of pedophiliac priests and church officials who were accused of ignoring complaints about sexual predators.
Jenkins, Phillip. Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. An academic and dispassionate review of sex scandals within the Roman Catholic Church and other religious institutions. This book reviews the role of the media in influencing public perceptions about crises.
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