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Child Will Bear Scars Of Molestation Always, Psychologist Testifies

February 7, 1986

ABBEVILLE, La. (AP) _ A child who was sexually abused by a priest will suffer lifelong scars because of the experience, a psychologist testified in a case in which the boy’s parents are seeking $12 million in damages.

Closing arguments will be heard today before a jury decides how much the Catholic Church must pay the parents, Glenn and Faye Gastal.

They have filed suit against the diocese of Lafayette, which has admitted liability but is fighting the size of the damage award.

The boy, now 11, nervously testified in graphic detail Thursday how the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe subjected him to oral and anal sex for over a year, leaving him unable now to accept his parents’ affection.

Gauthe, 40, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last October after admitting he molested about three dozen children - most of them altar boys assigned to his care.

He is one of three priests from the diocese accused in lawsuits of molesting parishioners’ children after church officials were warned about them. All three were suspended after the allegations surfaced.

The Lafayette diocese has settled 13 families’ lawsuits involving Gauthe for a reported $5.5 million, with none of those cases going to trial.

The Gastals’ last witness, child psychologist Lyle LeCorgne, testified Thursday that the child and his parents will suffer lifelong scars from trauma. ″He struggles, probably most every day, trying to be normal,″ LeCorgne said. ″I think he’s going to be wrestling with this throughout his life.″

Cross-examination by defense lawyer Bob Wright took 20 seconds, with questions restricted to whether the child was comfortable in school and whether he enjoyed being a member of a baseball team. The boy answered yes to both.

The church’s only witness was Mark Forman, director of the child psychiatry program at Tulane University. Forman said his court-ordered examination of the boy found the same symptoms the parents had described.

Forman said he believed it was poor judgment to bring the case to trial. ″In order to look after the child’s best interests, you do not expose him to the public and the press,″ he said.

The Gastals’ son said Thursday that he was 7 years old, preparing to serve at his first Mass, when Gauthe kept him overnight at the rectory. It was then that the first assault happened, he said. It hurt, but he didn’t tell his parents, because Gauthe threatened to harm them if he did, he said.

″He said he would hurt my daddy, he’d kill him,″ he said.

Using child’s terms for sex organs, he told how the priest assembled groups of young boys at the rectory and encouraged them to fondle each other while he took pictures.

″I thought he was doing the right thing, because he was a priest,″ the youngster said.

The boy said he feels particularly uncomfortable with his father. ″When he hugs me, I just feel funny.″

Under an agreement with state District Judge Bradford Ware, reporters were allowed to stay in the courtroom for the child’s testimony in return for a promise not to use the boy’s name. All other spectators were ordered out.

Church officials heard allegations against Gauthe 10 years before he was suspended in 1983, after parents had filed lawsuits.