A state appeals court has decided that discovery will proceed in a lawsuit filed by an Acadiana native over former Msgr. Robie Robichaux.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the Diocese of Lafayette must answer some of the interrogatories, or questions, and produce some of the documents requested by the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed almost a year ago. The appeals judges’ ruling mirrored what the trial judge said during the hearing, which was that the Diocese must produce the evidence related to the issue of prescription.
In Louisiana, lawsuits generally must be filed within a year of the day the alleged injury occurred, but there are different rules for victims of sexual abuse. In this case, the Diocese says the plaintiff’s case doesn’t meet those rules. During a hearing held earlier this year on the issue, 15th Judicial District Judge David Smith ordered the Diocese to produce all evidence related to that issue. The appeals court ruled the same thing, but specifically stated which interrogatories and document requests had to be answered. Those appear to be the questions and requests specifically related to the plaintiff’s case, and to the details of Robichaux’s time with the church.
We’ve reached out to attorneys for the Diocese to see if they plan to appeal this most recent ruling to the state Supreme Court. We’ll update the story when we hear back.
The suit, filed by a woman identified only as “TM Doe,” alleges that she was sexually abused by Robichaux when she was a teenager seeking counsel, and he was the priest at St. Peter’s in New Iberia.
The suit alleges that the abuse continued, on an almost daily basis, for two years.
After the lawsuit was filed, the victim’s attorney propounded discovery to the church. Basically, discovery is the process in a suit where each side asks its opponent to answer questions and to produce documents. Once the questions are asked, a clock starts ticking and the other side only has so much time to respond.
Months later, the church did not respond to the request. They maintain that the lawsuit isn’t valid because it should have been filed within a year of the alleged damage, so they shouldn’t have to answer the discovery. In addition, the church’s attorneys also said the discovery questions were too broad, not limited to the victim’s case and excessive.
According to minutes filed in the case, Smith said he wasn’t going to rule on those issues until after a hearing was held to determine if the lawsuit can even move forward.
The minutes indicate the church’s attorney told the court they will turn over all documents related to the victim. But, the victim’s attorney, argues, he’s entitled to get all documents related to any victim of Robichaux’s because the argument he’s making is that the church was ‘untruthful’ with the victim, with the intent of preventing her from proceeding with her case.
The lawsuit accuses the church of negligence, fraudulent concealment and of creating a public nuisance by shielding abusive priests.
Here’s what the suit alleges about this victim’s case:
She was raised in a devout Catholic family, and taught that priests were messengers of God and not to be questioned. When she was 15 she went to see Robichaux for counseling after a break-up with a boyfriend. It was on her second counseling visit that he assaulted her, the lawsuit alleges. She says he told her she must never tell anyone what happened. At one time, another priest walked in on them as Robichaux was assaulting her, the suit claims. Robichaux later told her that he went and confessed to that priest, which prevented him from every talking about what he saw.
The suit claims that the victim reported the abuse to the church in the early 1990s, and met with Bishop Harry Flynn, who took copious notes and thanked her for her honesty. He later told her that Robichaux admitted that what she said was true, and that Robichaux was sent off for two weeks of counseling for his “problems with intimacy,” the suit alleges.
The victim alleges that Flynn offered to pay for her past therapy and for another five years of therapy, as long as she signed a document acknowledging that the church was not admitting any wrongdoing. She refused to sign that document, the suit alleges. When she heard Flynn was leaving Louisiana for another assignment, she asked him what the status of her case was, and he referred her to then-Msgr. Henri Larroque, who was Vicar General at the time.
When the victim spoke to Larroque, he told her she needed to “get over” what had happened to her. The victim contacted the diocese again after the so-called zero-tolerance policy instituted by the church in the early 2000s, and spoke with Bishop Michael Jarrell. Jarrell asked her for a sworn affidavit, which she provided, and after some time let her know that, since she was 16 at the time of some of the abuse, he was not going to remove Robichaux, the suit alleges.
In 2018, when the victim heard Bishop Douglas Deshotel say there were no credibly accused priests in service at the time, she decided to report her abuse to the church again, the suit alleges. She was told her file was “lost,” and so she went to the diocese again and told her story again. After that, the board set up to review abuse claims determined her story was credible, and recommended that Robichaux be removed. He was placed on leave in the fall of 2018, read our story about that here. He later was removed, and the church reported him to Iberia Parish law enforcement.
The victim met with the review board as well, and the diocese paid her past therapy bills. The lawsuit alleges that this was an admission on the part of the church that she has a right to recover damages from the church. The victim also notes in her suit that the church never, at any time, denied that the abuse occurred, or said that her story was false.
Here are some of the documents and information the victim requested in discovery:
- The last known telephone number and address for Robichaux, as well as the amount of any money or benefit of any kind he receives from the church.
- All documents related to Robichaux’s tenure with the church, including “restricted access documents”
- All documents related to the victim’s claim in any way
- All documents related to any settlement the church has received for any claim of sex abuse
- The names of all clergy who have ever been accused of child sex abuse
- The documents the diocese review board has reviewed for any claim since it was created
- A list of all civil and criminal cases in which anyone has accused a clergyman of abuse
- Copies of the diocese policies regarding reports of sexual abuse
- All claims and investigations relating to contact with minors by Robichaux
- All knowledge of all bishops as to any claims of sexual abuse, regardless of the way the bishop learned of them
- A list of all efforts made by the diocese to deal with these allegations, including transfer of priests, sending them on sabbatical or sending them to treatment
- Details about bishops’ involvement in criminal investigations since 1960
- Details about bishops’ involvement in returning allegedly abusive priests to ministry since 1960 and related documents
- Details about the January 2019 report made to law enforcement about Robichaux
- Details about the decision to promote Robichaux when it was known he had credible accusations of abuse
- Details about any complaints or allegations of sexual misconduct of any priest at any time and related documents
- The names of any priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct, whether the accusation was found to be credible or not and related documents
- The names of any victims of abuse who received any assistance from the church where the assistance happened at least a year after the abuse and related documents
- The names of any priests or nuns who have ever been removed from service
- Church directories going back to 1960
- Church policies going back to 1960
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