New Orleans priest continued serving 13 years after abuse claim landed him in treatment

NEW ORLEANS — Sixteen years ago, Ricky Monsour spoke up for the first time about how he was groomed and molested in his boyhood by a priest the Catholic Church eventually acknowledged was almost certainly a child predator. But it was only recently that he decided to speak out about the details of the $106,000 payment that the church later gave him to quietly settle his claims of abuse at the hands of Carl Davidson.

Asked about Monsour’s recollections, archdiocesan officials revealed new details about the church’s handling of accusations against Davidson — including that he was sent to psychological treatment 31 years ago when church leaders first were told he had molested another boy, an aspiring priest.

That happened after New Orleans’ current archbishop, Gregory Aymond, took that abuse report and notified his then-boss, Archbishop Francis Schulte.

Until now, the church had never disclosed that sidelining, after which the now-dead Davidson was allowed to continue serving as a priest for at least another 13 years. It wasn’t until the clergy abuse scandal that erupted in Boston in 2002 that the church permanently removed Davidson from the ministry, and it took until 2004 — when Monsour went public — for the archdiocese to admit his removal stemmed from molestation accusations.

In a statement Thursday, Aymond said he would have acted differently now, given transparency policies that American bishops adopted following the Boston crisis. But he said the way the archdiocese handled Davidson for years was appropriate under the protocols in place before Boston changed everything.

Monsour, however, disagrees. He said he’s telling the full story of his case now so the public realizes how, even as bishops promised full transparency after Boston, myriad details of abuse cases have remained secret for years — often because of gag orders imposed by the church — and in some instances may never come to light unless survivors force the issue.

Monsour said he’s resolved to “tell the truth so this stops.”

Monsour said Davidson tried to rape him in 1980. Monsour was a 17-year-old star in the Vianney Singers choir, which Davidson directed at the since-closed St. John Vianney Prep School in Hollygrove. The school educated boys considering the priesthood.

As the group’s student leader, Monsour said he “went everywhere with Davidson,” including on overnight trips to the Northshore, where students were plied with alcohol that the priest provided.

One night, Monsour was at St. John when a storm rolled through, and Davidson invited him to spend the night in the rectory. They drank heavily before Davidson told his tiring pupil, “Just sleep in my bed.” Monsour agreed, then woke up to a scene he found terrifying.

“He’d already pulled my underwear off and everything,” Monsour said. “He was trying to get inside of me.”

Davidson stopped when Monsour frantically asked, “What are you doing?” He later told some of his friends what had happened, and one boy even went to Davidson and threatened to kill the priest if he ever did something like that again.

Around that time, then-Archbishop Phillip Hannan offered Monsour a scholarship to study at the Benedictine monastery in Covington to become a priest. Monsour said the news delighted his Catholic family.

But Monsour said the encounter with Davidson left him “scared to death.” So, with the scholarship in his hand, he marched into the office of the priest in charge at St. John: Aymond. And Monsour handed the scholarship back to him.

According to Monsour, Aymond told him the devil was tempting him away from his calling to the priesthood. Monsour recalls telling the future archbishop: “Well, if that’s the case, the devil’s right here in this building, and you know it.”

Monsour said he didn’t explicitly tell Aymond that Davidson had abused him. He also said Aymond didn’t ask Monsour what his remark about the devil being in the building meant, and Monsour wonders how Aymond could have so easily accepted his refusal of a prestigious scholarship so incuriously.

Aymond recalls much of the encounter similarly, with one crucial exception. He said he did ask Monsour what he meant about the devil being in the building and that Monsour replied by repeating, “You’ll see” and “You’ll find out soon enough.”

As he’s done before, Aymond denied having any idea back then that Davidson was a predator. He said he didn’t know Davidson had a student sleep overnight in the rectory where Aymond served as rector from 1979 to 1981.

“I wish I had known so I could have taken steps to prevent it,” Aymond said in a statement. Saying much of his work involves his counseling clergy abuse survivors, he said, “If I had known something like this and did not do anything about it, I would not have been able to live with myself or continue this ministry.”

Informed of the archbishop’s recollection, Monsour said he’s positive Aymond didn’t respond that way. He said it was a seminal moment in his life that he’ll never forget.

“I committed that to memory verbatim,” he said. “That stuck with me. It would never go away.”

In tragic company

The coming years would disabuse Monsour of his assumption that he was Davidson’s only target, which made him regret not bringing a more explicit complaint against the cleric sooner.

A Monsour choirmate later came forward and said he, too, had been abused by Davidson in St. John’s rectory. He had been offered the same scholarship to the monastery to study for the priesthood a year before Monsour. But that boy accepted, became a priest and — in 1989 — told Aymond, at the time a mentor to him as well as a leader at Notre Dame Seminary, about Davidson.

Aymond said he told then-Archbishop Francis Schulte about Davidson’s abuse, prompting Davidson’s stint at a treatment facility, which the archdiocese said conformed “with the dictates of the American Academy of Psychiatry at that time.”

“Davidson was medically cleared by his doctors to return to ministry,” the archdiocese’s statement said. The archdiocese said it has no record of any abuse by Davidson allegedly occurring after 1989.

The choirmate took little consolation in that. He said he saw no evidence that Schulte had taken any action against his fellow priest, Davidson, and the choirmate left the clergy in 1991.

The choirmate again complained of Davidson when the Boston Globe in 2002 published its explosive investigation showing the church was covering up clerical child sex abuse. The choirmate was incredulous that Davidson had remained in ministry and made it clear he would go to the news media if the archdiocese didn’t strip Davidson of his post. Monsour said he was also disturbed, and he, too, filed his own complaint with the archdiocese then.

Davidson denied wrongdoing. But the archdiocese ultimately did remove him after deeming at least one of the two accusations as credible. The archdiocese said it also reported Davidson in a letter to police sex crimes investigators, though no criminal charges were ever filed against him.

Still, for a time, the church told the public only that Davidson had retired. In fact, he had been removed from ministry, but that didn’t become public until 2004, when The Times-Picayune published remarks from Monsour about his claim.

What had also never been public — until now — was how the church settled with Monsour a year after Hurricane Katrina, just before Davidson died in 2007.

Monsour said the archdiocese offered him $106,000 and told him if he accepted he couldn’t talk about it. He took the terms, he said, because, “I’d just gone through … Katrina. I had nothing.”

The archdiocese denies it ever told Monsour he couldn’t speak about his settlement. It says the settlement agreement includes no mention of confidentiality, but it declined to provide a copy. Monsour says he doesn’t remember getting any documentation of the settlement, other than the check.

Alfred Hughes, who was archbishop at the time, has also tried to provide additional help, according to documents Monsour provided. Monsour said Hughes first had the archdiocese pay for him to spend a month in a sexual abuse treatment program.

Then, in late 2014, while Monsour was working a job as a night kitchen manager at Notre Dame Seminary, Hughes told him the archdiocese would cover the cost of a graduate degree in counseling at the University of Holy Cross in Algiers. Hughes said the program could help Monsour heal and become a force for good in the community, Monsour said.

Emboldened to speak

Monsour learned of a third Davidson victim after the archdiocese — in a move toward transparency amid the lingering clergy abuse crisis — included Davidson on a November 2018 roster of dozens of clerics faced with credible molestation allegations.

Kevin Bourgeois contacted Monsour after seeing his name in the 2004 news story of his complaint against Davidson. Bourgeois said that he, too, sang for Davidson’s choir at St. John in the early- to mid-1980s, and as a teen attended drunken sleepovers at Davidson’s room in Notre Dame Seminary. Bourgeois said he repeatedly woke up to Davidson molesting him.

Monsour’s nephew, Ryan, is an attorney, and Monsour recommended that Bourgeois speak with him. Ryan Monsour represented Bourgeois at a mediation last year when the church gave Bourgeois $150,000, plus $10,000 worth of counseling.

The paperwork detailing the terms of the settlement required Bourgeois to keep the monetary amount confidential. But he decided to defy that restriction when he learned that it ran afoul of American bishops’ own transparency policies.

Bourgeois said he never requested confidentiality. The bishops’ transparency policy also says that if a victim requests confidentiality, it must be noted in the agreement. It was not in Bourgeois’ agreement.

Previously, the church had not addressed Bourgeois’ portrayal of the confidentiality agreement. After being presented with a copy of the agreement by WWL-TV earlier this month, the archdiocese Thursday acknowledged it had imposed confidentiality in some cases but insisted it did not impose that condition when it settled with Monsour in 2006.

The archdiocese’s statement Thursday made it a point to say an attorney for Monsour early last year threatened to sue the church over his claims about Davidson. But the attorney dropped the claim after learning “of the prior settlement agreement,” the church said.

Monsour said news stories on the archdiocese’s settlement with Bourgeois, who is now a spokesman for the Survivors Networks of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, inspired him to come forward.

He said Bourgeois’ case demonstrates the church has fallen short of its stated commitment to transparency, especially after its May 1 filing seeking bankruptcy protections indefinitely halted dozens of unresolved abuse lawsuits and similar claims which were being privately mediated.

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