* "In God's House" harrowing novel of church sex abuse
* Lawyer who defended priest tells his story
* Crusade eventually vindicated
By Angus MacSwan
London, Dec 20 Ray Mouton was a successful young
lawyer in Lafayette, Louisiana, respected in the community and
blessed with a loving family, when he received a call from a
vicar in the Roman Catholic diocese for a lunch meeting on a
fateful day in 1984.
The diocese asked him to defend an errant priest, accused of
abusing dozens of children in a rural community. Mouton
reluctantly agreed to take on the task.
What followed over the next few years was the uncovering of
an institution riddled with paedophile priests on a national
scale and efforts at high levels in the Catholic Church to hide
the problem away.
For Mouton, it meant the end of his law career, health
problems, and anger, depression and guilt.
After many years of writing from his self-imposed exile in
France, he finally tells his story in the novel "In God's
House". It is a harrowing read laden with sickening detail, but
also for Mouton, a work of atonement.
"There's not a day I don't think about the children. When I
was writing the book, whenever I wanted to quit, I thought about
the victims and their families," he told Reuters.
In person, Mouton, now aged 65, looks like a southern lawyer
from central casting, with a head of thick white hair and a
sonorous Louisiana drawl.
He chose to tell the story in novel form although the
characters, from the lawyer to a senior Vatican official who
proves an obstacle to addressing the scandal - are based on real
"The novel is a dramatic experience. My experience was a
traumatic one. Every day there were revelations. I didn't want
to believe, the country didn't want to believe," he said.
Mouton and his family - Cajuns whose ancestors came to
Louisiana as part of the Acadian diaspora - were strongly
Catholic. His family had donated land for the cathedral in
Lafayette and built schools, churches and a seminary.
When he first agreed to defend the priest, Father Gilbert
Gauthe, he believed he was dealing with an isolated case.
"I believed priests were somehow superior. I had never heard
of a priest having sex with a child. I could not believe a
Catholic priest could do this. I thought he was just one then it
all unravelled. In that diocese alone there were a dozen more."
The church preferred to deal with the problem by paying off
victims' families. But one family wanted to see justice done.
As a lawyer, Mouton believed Gauthe had the right to a fair
trial. He soon realised the church was deeply compromised. It
had known about Gauthe's crimes since his days in seminary but
had moved him around various parishes, where the abuses
The church was in effect harbouring criminals, Mouton said.
"I did start out on the side of the church. I couldn't
imagine they had foreknowledge," he said.
Mouton joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, a canon lawyer
in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, and Father Michael
Peterson, a psychiatrist priest who treated sexually deviant
clergymen. The two had heard many other cases across Louisiana
and the United States - and attempts to bury the problem.
Believing they had the support of the church hierarchy, they
set out on a crusade to bring it into the open and seek justice
for the victims.
They spent a year working on a document detailing the scale
of the abuse, the steps the church should take to address it and
the consequences if it did not. It stated that there was a
national crisis involving dozens, if not hundreds, of priests.
"It told them what the deal was - you'll lose 1,000 priests
and a billion dollars."
They hoped to present the document to the United States
Conference of Catholic Bishops for debate. But after a meeting
in a Chicago hotel in 1985 with a cardinal, they were told to
"They put the reputation of the church above the value of
the little children. They did all they could to avoid scandal."
FALL FROM GRACE
"In God's House" details a powerful apparatus at work
involving local politicians, expensive lawyers, insurance
companies and bishops. It also reached into the Vatican, which
Mouton says considered the institution above the law.
It also shows the devastation of the victims and their
families - shame, anger and frustration as well as physical
damage. Many were told that to seek redress would be disloyal to
the church, adding further conflict to their emotions.
Mouton himself suffered verbal abuse and even death threats
in the community for defending Gauthe. He was accused of trying
to extort the church for exorbitant fees.
He put up an insanity plea for Gauthe but the priest himself
insisted he was sane. He was sentenced to 20 years.
However, a senior jurist in Louisiana involved himself
personally in Gauthe's case. Instead of going to a prison that
was a treatment facility for paedophiles, the priest was sent to
a prison where juveniles were held. He was released after
serving only half of his sentence.
Gauthe was picked up in Texas soon after his release for
molesting a 3-year-old boy, but put on probation rather than
being sent back to prison.
Mouton's marriage broke up and he became an alcoholic.
"It was a cataclysmic event. It broke me in half. I did fall
from grace," he said.
It took many years but subsequent events have vindicated
Mouton as widespread sexual abuse by priests came to light
across the United States and the world, from Ireland to
The church and its insurance companies have paid out more
than $2 billion dollars in the United States, bishops have been
disgraced, and its reputation has suffered to the point that the
faithful have deserted in droves.
Mouton now lives in southern France close to the Pyrenees
with his second wife Melony and travels frequently to Spain,
Mexico and other countries.
He is still bitter about the cover-ups and that many of
those responsible have never been brought to justice. Nor has
the problem been eradicated, he believes.
"I don't think we've reached critical mass on it yet. The
question is what can the church do? The church needs to release
all the documents and demand the resignations of those
The novel is dedicated to Scott Anthony Gastal, the first
child to testify in court against a bishop, and to the victims
and their families, who, he says, "were abandoned not by their
God, but by their Church".
"I was haunted by my experience. I felt I had to do
something," he said.
(Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Paul Casciato)