MANDEVILLE, La. — Weeks after commending her dying husband’s soul to God, the chaplain at a Catholic retirement home in Mandeville forcefully reached under an elderly woman’s blouse multiple times in an unsuccessful attempt to seduce her, according to authorities.
The Rev. Michael Mulenga was convicted of a simple misdemeanor battery charge Wednesday and was immediately sent to prison for five months, officials said.
Mulenga -- who reports to a diocese in the East African nation of Zambia, but was in the area as a visiting priest -- met Lynn Michler in 2019 while working as the chaplain of Rouquette Lodge, an independent living facility run by an Archdiocese of New Orleans nonprofit that provides affordable housing to low-income seniors.
Michler’s husband of more than 50 years, George “Butch” Michler, was dying at the time. Mulenga administered the Catholic sacrament known as the Anointing of the Sick -- or the “last rites” -- to the 74-year-old Butch Michler before his death on Nov. 4, 2019, according to records filed in 22nd Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish.
Lynn Michler, 75, said in court records that she was grieving her husband’s death when Mulenga, 49, approached her in the building’s laundry room and asked her why she was still wearing a wedding ring. Michler said Mulenga then came to her apartment at Rouquette Lodge on Jan. 2, 2020, asked to have a drink with her, and made remarks about her beauty and thin body while insulting her mother’s physical appearance.
He soon reached under her shirt and tried to grab her breasts several times while she told him to stop and asked him to leave, she later alleged. Michler said Mulenga did leave, but he grabbed her and squeezed her tight to his body on the way out.
“She was very uncomfortable,” said a civil attorney for Michler, Jim Garner. “(It) was very offensive.”
Within days, Michler reported Mulenga to the Mandeville Police Department, and New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond indefinitely suspended Mulenga from working locally as a priest.
Aymond also ordered Mulenga to leave Rouquette Lodge, an archdiocesan spokesperson said.
The St. Tammany Parish District Attorney’s Office charged Mulenga with simple battery on Feb. 26. He pleaded not guilty and faced a bench trial in front of 22nd Judicial District Court Judge Scott Gardner in Covington on Wednesday.
Gardner found Mulenga guilty and immediately remanded him to the St. Tammany Parish jail to begin serving his five-month sentence.
Media outlets generally don’t identify victims of sexual violence. But through her attorneys, Michler gave permission for reporters to use her name.
“This was a horrible incident by a trusted priest, … and she wants to be in charge of her life, not this predatory priest,” said Garner, adding that Michler also wants Mulenga to be punished under church law.
Michler is pursuing a civil lawsuit seeking damages from Mulenga, Rouquette Lodge and its owner, the nonprofit Christopher Homes. The civil case remained pending as of Thursday.
St. Tammany District Attorney Warren Montgomery declined to comment for this story.
After his expulsion from Rouquette Lodge, Mulenga moved to an archdiocesan-owned property in Westwego.
“In full cooperation with law enforcement, the archdiocese agreed to provide a place for Mulenga to live within the archdiocese under supervision for the duration of the (case),” church spokesperson Sarah McDonald said. “We are very saddened by this situation. Our prayers are with the victim and the family.”
Mulenga’s defense attorney, Miguel Elias, declined comment Thursday.
The Diocese of Ndola, Zambia, supervises Mulenga. He got his assignment in the New Orleans area through the Neocathecumenal community, which seeks to rekindle the faith of baptized but lukewarm Catholics.
Mulenga is a different priest than the pastor of St. Augustine Parish in Treme, who shares the same last name and remains in good standing with the archdiocese, McDonald said. McDonald said they are also not related.