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Victim of clergy abuse says Archdiocese tried to keep settlement details secret, against its own rules

A Church code adopted by the U.S. Conference of Bishops specifically forbids the Archdiocese from muzzling victims about their settlements.

NEW ORLEANS — As the Archdiocese of New Orleans went to court last week to try to bar new claims of sex abuse by priests, a leading voice for victims spoke out anew about his own abuse settlement with the Church.

Kevin Bourgeois settled with the archdiocese in 2019 for $150,000 and two years of therapy to address his claims of molestation 36 years earlier by a now-deceased priest.

Last week, Bourgeois provided WWL-TV with documents indicating the archdiocese wanted to keep the terms of his settlement secret, in apparent violation of a 2002 church code that sought to address the sex abuse allegations in the U.S. head on.

Another document showed the Archdiocese tried to get Bourgeois to sign a tax form as a “vendor” and threatened to deduct from payments for his therapy if he didn’t. The Archdiocese told WWL-TV that it sent him a form letter by mistake and apologized for the error.

Bourgeois is sharing his concerns about how the Archdiocese handled his abuse settlement just as the Church is stepping up its efforts to stop a raft of lawsuits alleging child sex abuse by priests and cover ups by archdiocesan leaders.

Last week, the Archdiocese filed a motion in its bankruptcy case asking the court to bar any new abuse claims starting in September. Abuse victims came right back with a motion to dismiss the Archdiocese’s bankruptcy case, a move that would help pending abuse claims move forward.

RELATED: Priest abuse victims ask court to dismiss New Orleans Archdiocese bankruptcy

The Church has been able to use its May 1 bankruptcy filing to stop the progress of at least 34 abuse lawsuits. Another half dozen filed since then are also on hold pending the bankruptcy.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond was scheduled to testify in one of the abuse cases on May 28, but that was quashed by the bankruptcy. The Archdiocese also got all the abuse cases moved from state court to federal court, where the bankruptcy would automatically stop document production and testimony by church officials.

Late on Friday, a committee of attorneys representing abuse victims and other unsecured creditors asked the federal court to throw out the bankruptcy case entirely, arguing that the Church filed for bankruptcy protection in “bad faith,” not because of financial distress but to block legitimate abuse claims.

The Archdiocese sent WWL-TV a statement Monday standing by the decision to file for bankruptcy because of mounting abuse claims and unexpected financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:

“The archdiocese has publicly stated the underlying concerns which led to the decision to file Chapter 11 reorganization. We feel strongly that our position is legally sound.  The archdiocese will address the factual and legal inaccuracies in the (creditors’) Motion to Dismiss at the appropriate time with the Bankruptcy Court.”

The creditors’ motion to dismiss cites testimony from Church officials admitting that the Archdiocese is financially solvent, with $200 million in property assets, $50 million in net assets and $25 million in cash.

RELATED: Archdiocese of New Orleans files for bankruptcy, Archbishop says bills will be paid

Asked in a court hearing May 29 why the Archdiocese was filing for bankruptcy if it’s solvent, a church official repeatedly answered it was “to pay 100 percent of our allowed claims.”

At that same hearing May 29, attorneys asked Jeffrey Entwisle, the Archdicoese’s chief financial officer, how much money had been paid out to victims. He said he did not know and didn’t know who would know the answer.

Bourgeois says his own settlement experience is more evidence that the Church wants to keep the scope of the abuse claims and settlement payments quiet. His own abuse claim never went to court. It was settled during a daylong mediation in April 2019. But it’s what Bourgeois said he learned after the settlement that continues to disturb him, especially in light of the recent court activity.

A Church code adopted by the U.S. Conference of Bishops in the wake of the 2002 church abuse scandal in Boston specifically forbids the Archdiocese from muzzling victims about their settlements.

Article 3 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says, “Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into settlements which bind the parties to confidentiality, unless the victim/survivor requests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of the agreement.”

Bourgeois said he never requested confidentiality and the text of his agreement doesn’t say that he did. And yet, it expressly required him to sign a confidentiality agreement and says, “The parties agree that the amount of this settlement is and shall always be and remain confidential.”

Bourgeois said he sat across from the Archdiocese’s attorney at the time, Wendy Vitter, and felt like he was in an adversarial deposition, not a mediation. The Archdiocese told WWL-TV that Bourgeois “fully participated” in the mediation, represented by an attorney, and regardless, it hasn’t tried to enforce the confidentiality provisions.

“One of the terms of the settlement was that the amount of the settlement be kept confidential, but there was no effort and has been no effort on the part of the archdiocese to prevent Mr. Bourgeois from sharing his story,” the archdiocese said in an email statement.

Three weeks after that settlement, Vitter was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a federal judge.

Several months later, the Archdiocese sent Bourgeois a letter calling him a “vendor” and threatening a $50 penalty and 24-percent withholding on future payments if he didn’t sign an IRS form called a W9.

“I'm like, ‘Excuse me, I wasn't a vendor. I settled with the church because I was sexually abused as a teenager,’” Bourgeois said, recalling his exasperation when he got the letter.

He has refused to sign it.

In its statement to WWL-TV, the Archdiocese says it asked Bourgeois to sign the W9 so it could reimburse him for certain expenses and it didn’t intend to send him the form letter it uses with actual vendors.

“That was a clerical error for which we apologize,” the Archdiocese said.

Bourgeois is a leader in a victims’ advocacy group known as SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He alleged he was molested as a 16-year-old by his former choir director, the Rev. Carl Davidson, who died in 2007.

Bourgeois’ abuse claims were first reported in 2019 by The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate.

Bourgeois was second tenor in the prestigious Vianney Singers choir at St. John Vianney Prep in the early- to mid-1980s. Davidson was the choir director and Bourgeois’ musical mentor until he was transferred to Notre Dame Seminary in 1983.

After the transfer, Bourgeois said he and his friends spent many nights at Davidson’s apartment at the seminary, where they drank lots of alcohol and slept overnight, rotating between a sleeper sofa and in the bed with Davidson. One night in 1984, during Bourgeois’ junior year at St. John Prep, he said he and two other boys got drunk at Davidson’s apartment and it was Bourgeois’ turn to sleep in the priest’s bed.

“All I remember is waking up and that his hands were in my underwear and he had masturbated me,” Bourgeois said.

He said he pretended to be asleep and avoided any conversation about what happened. But he said he went on to have several more sexual encounters with Davidson after that. He said he had entered St. John Prep considering the priesthood. Now, he was confused and scared.

“Well, how did this happen?” Bourgeois remembers thinking to himself. “What is going on? This is Father Davidson. A man that that I looked up to and admired, and loved even.”

Bourgeois grew up to become a social worker, helping others deal with trauma, but never dealt with his own. He said he would pass by the massive seminary building at Carrollton and Walmsley avenues and see Davidson’s old apartment on the second floor and get chills. But he never told anyone what happened there until November 2018, 34 years later, when Aymond released a list of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Davidson was on the list, having been formally accused by several other men between 1989 and 2002. The priest was removed from ministry in 2002, according to the Archdiocese. The Times-Picayune reported Davidson’s removal wasn’t made public until 2004, and he died three years later without being charged with any crime. But finally, Bourgeois said his pain was unlocked and he came forward with his own abuse claim. And he’s been very vocal ever since.

“The reason why I feel it's important to tell this story is so that Catholics across New Orleans understand how the hierarchy acts, how they say one thing and then they do the other,” Bourgeois said. “And I'm not making up accusations out of thin air. I have evidence that this happened to me.”

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