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Courageous editor who took on clergy sex abuse story dead at 46


Richard Baudouin might have taken some solace in recent weeks in all the apologies flowing from Catholic pulpits. Following the pope’s initiative, many Catholic leaders apologized for the church’s past sins. In the United States, the apologies often were for sexual abuse by priests.

Baudouin, who died in late February at age 46, was the courageous Catholic editor whose paper was the first secular publication to write about the sex abuse scandal. Long before the church began apologizing, Baudouin knew the sting of criticism from church leaders working hard to cover up the scandal.

In 1986, as editor of the weekly Times of Acadiana in Lafayette, Baudouin wrote an editorial demanding accountability from church officials. His words still carry a powerful resonance: “We must insist on the principle of justice, that officials of the church are not above the law, not above basic moral and ethical standards of the areas which they serve. … This newspaper, for one, will not stand silent at the outrages that have been perpetrated upon the people of this region.”

He concluded by calling on the bishop and vicar general to “resign their positions immediately so that the process of healing can take place. And if they refuse, we call upon the Vatican, through its official representative in the United States … to force such action.”

The issue of clergy pedophilia had barely penetrated the national radar screen at the time. But the editorial had a powerful, validating impact in a web of small communities in southwest Louisiana where dozens of families had been traumatized by the sexual acts of seven priests, only two of whom were criminally prosecuted.

The editorial provoked an unseemly backlash. Within days, a retired judge, Edmund Reggie, and a powerful cleric, Msgr. Al Sigur, launched an advertisers’ boycott, trying to force the paper to retract its statement. The Times publisher, Steve May, gave Baudouin unstinting support. As both men stood their ground, a lay adviser to the bishop named Raymond Blanco invited Baudouin to his home for supper with Sigur. Baudouin was clearly nervous, Blanco later recalled. But the dinner helped start a dialogue, and the boycott soon fizzled.

Richard Baudouin was a man of many dimensions. He was a lector at St. Genevieve’s Church in Lafayette, a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a strong advocate for interracial harmony and an early critic of David Duke during the white supremacist’s quest for power in Louisiana.

In the late 1990s he worked for a time on Klanwatch projects at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

He died in his living room Feb. 26 of a pulmonary embolism -- blood clot in the lung. He had recently been taking medication for high blood pressure.

Although many larger newspapers gave extensive coverage to clergy sex abuse cases after the Times of Acadiana’s coverage, none called for the resignation of a bishop or high church officials.

Baudouin’s uncompromising position was the touchstone of the eulogy given by Blanco at the Feb. 29 Mass at St. Genevieve’s. Four hundred people packed the church. Blanco, who had once viewed Baudouin as an enemy of the church, ended up one of his closest friends. “He was like St. Thomas More, a man for all seasons,” said Blanco, a vice president at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. “Richard believed in justice.”

Berry wrote extensively about the clergy sex abuse crisis for the Times of Acadiana and NCR. His reporting led to a book on the subject, Lead Us Not Into Temptation.

National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2000