LAFAYETTE, La. (ChurchMilitant.com) - After reports of Louisiana priest Fr. Mikel Polson's inappropriate behavior with teen boys, his bishop was caught on audio admitting he should not be alone with children — but still defending him as a priest in good standing.
The Society of St. Peter Damian (SSPD), a group of lay investigators in the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, is pressing their bishop, Bp. Douglas Deshotel, to take action to protect the families in his diocese and get help for a priest that has been accused of committing numerous boundary violations with teen boys in his care.
Church Militant contacted SSPD and spoke to Quinn Hebert, the media relations representative, and Peter Youngblood, one of the three men who recorded their conversation with Bp. Deshotel.
Hebert pointed us to their mission statement that explains they are fed up with the sexual and financial corruption "which is rampant" in the Church and by exposing it, "the laity and the hierarchy might work towards a thorough cleansing of our Holy Mother Church."
"Our work is rooted in a love for Jesus Christ and His Church, and we continually pray for Her restoration," it continues.
Youngblood said that the witness accounts of the violations indicated nothing was done to correct the problems for almost a year after the reports were made.
"Given that, I think that there is at least some gross negligence in this case, if not cover-up," he said.
In 2013 and 2014, at least two parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel in Crowley, Louisiana, reported boundary violations with numerous teenage boys they personally witnessed by their pastor, Fr. Mikel Polson, to the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana.
Father Polson is also the chancellor of Notre Dame High School in Crowley.
In the conversation they had with Bp. Deshotel in November 2018, Bp. Deshotel admitted the letters were credible but parishioners were never notified. Instead, in response to SSPD's reports, Bp. Deshotel released a statement on Aug. 29 saying: "I wish to assure all who are concerned that Fr. Polson is a priest in good standing with the Diocese of Lafayette."
Further, he reminded "all Christians of the duty to respect the good name and reputation of others."
Given this response, the group noted in their report they feel "duty-bound" to publish Bp. Deshotel's full response.
"It is unimaginable to me how Fr. Polson is not only allowed to continue in a position of ministry which puts him in frequent contact with minors ... but is allowed to do so without any acknowledgment to his parishioners," Youngblood said.
Hoping for a concrete resolution from Bp. Deshotel, SSPD initially published the witnesses accounts with the priest's name redacted. They also advocated for Fr. Polson's removal on numerous occasions with Bp. Deshotel ultimately releasing the recording of a conversation with him when they first approached him with the allegations.
In that recording, Bp. Deshotel admitted he was aware of the allegations against Fr. Polson and said the letters from the parishioners were "turned over to the police."
He then went on to say Fr. Polson's "boundary things ... protocols in Safe Environment that we try to enforce, were pointed out to him and corrections made."
Refusing to call them violations, Bp. Deshotel also refused to explain what the corrections were. He said Fr. Polson's boundary violations were "a sign of ... immaturity, of not realizing the importance of professional boundaries, of not being sensitive to the climate of the times."
Bishop Deshotel admitted that Fr. Polson should "not be alone with children, that's for sure" but indicated that if Fr. Polson committed any other violations he would eventually know.
"If someone brings a complaint to me that he is — if the assistant pastor who's living with him is, he will tell me. If the principal who is on the scene tells me, I'll know," Bp. Deshotel said.
Youngblood said this response illustrates a big part of the problem.
"There is really no way to know if the so-called 'correction' worked since the bishop refuses to reveal the nature of that correction," he said.
"This means, in effect, that the only way to know whether the correction has worked is to wait and see if anyone makes a new allegation," Youngblood said. He added that the witness accounts show a pattern of behavior "indicative of a deeper problem which at least has the potential of being extremely grave."
"Who in their right mind would find this acceptable as a means of preventing violations and potential abuse of minors?" Youngblood asked.
Hebert added that they have heard from sources "that some kids are uncomfortable around him, even describing him as a 'perv.'"
"Many parents of the schools are concerned both by the allegations and by the fact that the bishop's response was not sent directly to them, but was rather posted on the school website where not many of them saw it," Hebert added. "[T]here is also a faction of parents and students who are vehemently defending him and some calling one of the witnesses a liar. This, in spite of the fact that the bishop acknowledges the reports."
In August 2014, Pam Goff, a religious education teacher, wrote to Msgr. Curtis Mallet, the vicar general, out of concern for the young Catholics in the schools.
Goff claimed she and Fr. James Brady, a diocesan advisory board member she previously reported Fr. Polson's conduct to, were "stonewalled" by diocesan officials.
Stanley Keyes, a parishioner at St. Michael, also wrote to Msgr. Mallet after his concerns went unheeded.
Keyes' account referenced a September 2013 incident when he was returning from distributing Holy Communion to inmates and wanted to repose the remaining hosts to the tabernacle. Knowing the youth group was in progress, he went to the meeting to ask the director of religious education to open the church.
"Upon approaching the building, I witnessed a male teenager with his head on Fr. Polson's lap," Keys wrote. "When Father saw me, he got up and came to the door to ask what I needed. I told him why I was there and he dutifully opened the church so that I might repose our Lord."
Keyes reported what he saw to Fr. Brady the next day. His report was then relayed to Maureen Fontenot at the diocesan offices. At the time, Keyes said he was "unconcerned" that there was a problem "until I heard from someone who was an adult worker with the youth that what I had witnessed continued to be a regular occurrence."
Goff wrote that she witnessed "numerous instances of boundary violations withs several young men in our youth group."
She documented several disturbing actions by Fr. Polson, including one where he attempted to slowly run her over while she was waiting to cross the street on foot near her house, as a joke. Goff had to step into a ditch to avoid being hit.
She spoke with eight other priests in and out of the diocese, and all of them urged her to report her concerns to the bishop. She initially reported Fr. Polson's behavior to Fr. Brady. She rewrote them in a letter after he refused to provide copies of the reports she submitted to the diocese over time.
Goff summarized those reports in her letter and directly witnessed several of the boundary violations and other problematic behaviors she described as:
In that same meeting with Deshotel in November, SSPD brought up a separate case of a cathedral sacristan who fondled a woman in the church. When asked why the sacristan still has his job years after the abuse was made public, Bp. Deshotel responded, "Because he's a good sacristan."
"That, in a nutshell, expresses the moral sense of the men in charge of this diocese," Youngblood said.
"Our prayer is that those who perpetrate and perpetuate this evil be brought back to spiritual life by the imitation of our Lord's self-emptying death," Youngblood said. "But in the meantime, we want to do everything we can to stem the destructive tide of clerical sin in our diocese by giving victims and witnesses a voice they might not otherwise have had."
How is it pastoral to leave a man who has obvious "boundary issues" with minors, to use again the bishop's language, in a position to be constantly around minors? Even for Fr. Polson's own sake, it seems like he should be removed from those circumstances and encouraged to pursue holiness in a way that is more fitted to him given his particular and manifest struggles.
Church Militant reached out to Fr. Polson and the diocese of Lafayette but has not heard back by press time.
This article has been updated for minor corrections.