A nationally renowned case was filed in 1985, focusing public attention on Catholic cover-ups. Father Gilbert Gauthe, of Louisiana, admitted to molesting 37 boys and one girl. He pleaded guilty on various charges in October 1985 and was given a 20-year prison sentence with no possibility of parole. The families of many of his victims went to court when they learned that a bishop and monsignor were aware of child molestation reports against Gauthe for more than ten years before his abuse was halted. Gauthe had molested some of the children as many as 200 times, including anal and oral rape, during church outings when alone with children in the rectory, sacristy, confessional, and the priest's camper.
Small-town Catholics turned against the families as trouble-makers. All but one family agreed to settle their civil lawsuits out of court. But Faye and Glenn Gastal had their day in court. After their son, eleven, testified in court, he received a one-million dollar award for damages from the Catholic Church on February 7, 1986. His parents received $250,000 as compensation for their pain, ostracism, and harassment.
The Gastal boy testified that he was led to believe that being molested by priests was part of his job as altar boy. He thought his parents knew what was happening: "I thought he was doing the right thing because he was a priest". Later, the priest guaranteed his silence by threatening that "he would hurt my daddy, he'd kill him".
In what is the classic Catholic "musical chairs" mode of dealing with accusations against priests, it was revealed that the church had simply transferred Gauthe to new, unsuspecting communities. Parents had confronted the priest as early as 1972. In 1974, Gauthe admitted to a bishop that he had made "imprudent touches" in "one isolated case". The following year, the bishop appointed him chaplain of the diocesan Boy Scouts. In 1977, more parents complained. Gauthe was directed to seek psychiatric treatment by church officials, but in 1978 he was transferred to another family parish. The sworn statement of one church official was, "I am trained as a priest to forget sins". The enormity of the scandal prompted even the National Catholic Reporter to condemn the cover-up. The church has paid at least $14 million to the victims of Gauthe alone.
-- Annie Laurie Gaylor