Transparency and openness in the Diocese of Lafayette is being questioned by a group of devout catholics who have formed an anonymous group called The Society of St. Peter Damian (SSPD). Now, one of their members is coming forward.
“St. Peter Damian, our patron, was very outspoken, he was a priest and very outspoken,” said Quinn Hebert, a member of the SSPD. “We don’t see that among clergy, because it is really not our place to be doing this, and yet we’ve been forced to, because those whose place it is refuse to act.”
Hebert is a former seminarian in the diocese, who says he and others were compelled to do something because of the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse crisis locally and worldwide.
“It’s for the good of the church,” he said. “We love the church, we absolutely adore the church, we love the hierarchy, we have no intention of usurping the authority of the bishop, that’s not our goal. We want to assist the bishop, encourage him to do the right thing.”
In their posts on social media, the SSPD has called into question the effectiveness of the church’s Safe Environment Program and called for transparency in the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“What we have been saying from the very beginning is that we need a third party, non-diocesan, independent, investigative board, it seems very straight forward,” said Hebert. “If they have nothing to hide then it’s no big deal and it assures the public of that trust and accountability.”
When the SSPD formed last August, they vowed to expose “institutionalized corruption” in the diocese.
“It goes from the very bottom to the very top,” he said. “There’s a camaraderie among priests, and it’s beautiful in a way, but there’s a danger in that, because they feel that they have the right to cover up for each other until the very end.”
Last year, the group gave the diocese a deadline to respond to their call for an independent, investigation.
The day before the deadline, Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel issued a news release:
“The Diocese will not respond to deadlines, bullying and ultimatums issued by any non-Diocesan, anonymous group. I also remind such groups that slander, detraction and defamation of character are mortally sinful. Those who commit them must receive sacramental absolution in Confession and in justice restore the good name of those offended or risk losing everlasting life at the final judgment.”
“They are scared,” Hebert said. “They know that we have stuff and we’re working and we’re going to expose it.”
While Hebert is coming forward, other members of the SSPD are remaining anonymous, although some of them have met with the bishop.
“We wanted the information to speak for itself,” said Hebert. “The two, there is a concern about retaliatory actions from the diocese.”
Hebert says despite that fear, there has not been any retaliation against members of the SSPD.
“Priests have come to us and said they are scared of the chancery,” he said. “It has been said that this diocese acts like a mafia, and I know that will freak good catholics out, they don’t want to believe that about the church. People call Lafayette the new holy land, but that naive opinion betrays the ignorance of the reality behind the scenes.”
Hebert acknowledges a long road ahead, but he has faith reform is possible.
“I personally have utmost faith in Jesus Christ and his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail,” he said. “I don’t doubt that, we’re going to come through this.”