National Catholic Reporter

July 12, 1996

page 6


Efforts of an Iowa parish and a Louisiana diocese to deal with news of clergy sex abuse highlighted the impact such crimes have well beyond the immediate victims.

In the Houma-Thibodaux, La., diocese, Bishop Michael Jarrell said his people need 'healing and understanding" after Fr. Robert Melancon was convicted June 18 of having raped an altar boy over a four-year period in the 1980s.

In a three-page letter read at weekend Masses in the Houma-Thibodaux diocese, Jarrell said Melancon's conviction has brought feelings of "confusion, anger, disgust, betrayal, shame and deep sorrow."

Jarrell said Melancon, on administrative leave since the allegations against him came to light, "will not return to ministry."

Melancon, 60, is to be sentenced in August. If his conviction is upheld, he faces mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Jarrell said the diocese had agreed to an out-of-court settlement of a civil lawsuit over the priest's actions because "our insurance carriers and legal advisers" recommended settling the matter rather than incur the legal costs and risk of a much higher award in a jury trial.

Less than a month earlier the bishop met with members of a parish whose pastor had acknowledged that several years ago he had pornographic material in his rectory and that he had lied about it under oath before a grand jury.

The same day that the jury in Houma found Melancon guilty, about 150 members of St. Columbkille Parish in Dubuque, Iowa, met to discuss news that one of their priests was accused of sexual misconduct with at least seven young people.

Fr. Timothy DeVenney, an associate pastor at St. Columbkille since his ordination in 1993, has been placed on administrative leave pending resolution of the misconduct charges against him.

In the investigation of DeVenney in Iowa, Dubuque Assistant Police Chief Terry Lambert said that seven apparent victims were identified within a few days after the police received the first complaint on June 12.