Bishop Gabriel Malzaire
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire

Catholics of Grand Bay say they are "frustrated" over the decision to have their parish priest continue on administrative leave over allegations of alleged sexual abuse and misconduct.

In June with much bewilderment, Dominicans witnessed a large number of Catholics of Grand Bay demonstrating with trumpets, drums and placards; the group of disgruntled parishioners was protesting the suspension of Parish Priest Father Reginald LaFleur from service at the Grand Bay church.

The incitement for the protestation was a decision by Bishop Gabriel Malzaire to act on a charge of sexual abuse of a minor, a 12 year-old girl. The incident that allegedly occurred about 19 years ago

In a recent letter obtained by the Sun, Bishop Malzaire has asked Grand Bay Catholics to "be patient and pray".

Nevertheless, the Catholics say "they are fed up and want their parish priest Fr. LaFleur back immediately." A letter to Bishop Malzaire dated August 20, 2013 from the Committee charged with overseeing the administration of the parish in the absence of the Parish Priest states:

"Our faith in his (Fr. LaFleur) innocence stems from the fact that you and your Review Board have not proved any evidence on which to reprimand him but continue to instill pain and character defamation.

"As a Church Committee, we remain very disappointed that these investigations have not yet been concluded after almost a year and we propose that you take steps to expedite the matter within the next two weeks. We remain confident, that our Parish Priest will be completely exonerated and will return at the soonest to continue in the service of the Lord and his parishioners. We continue to stand resolute in defense of Monsignor La Fleur and his reputation," the letter stated.

However, in his response dated September 9, 2013, Bishop Malzaire said that his visit to the parish on Sunday June 9, 2013 was meant to celebrate the liturgy with the parishioners and to share with them what he regarded as "very sad news for the parish; news which should be received in a reflective spirit and a disposition of prayer for a positive outcome to the ongoing investigations". But instead, he stated, the entire parish seemed to have been incensed about the action of the Bishop which was judged "wrong and unjust."

"While I commend the love and support you and the entire parish have demonstrated towards Msgr. La Fleur, I wish to remind you that my action in this matter is being guided by the rules of the Church which I serve as Bishop and refusal to do so could be a greater injustice with untold consequences. We are all familiar with the happenings in the international world in that regard. Therefore, the Bishop is duty bound to take seriously every allegations of sexual abuse of minors that is brought to him," Bishop Malzaire said.

He continued: "You will recall my utter reluctance at my meeting with the Parish Council on June 9, 2013 to agree on a time limit to the investigations. Experiences in other diocese have indicated that these matters take time. The agreement was that if a verdict was not achieved in one month, more time would be taken. I wish to add here that contrary to reports in the media and from parishioners, no mention was made by me of reinstatement in one month. How could I ever have said this when I don't know the outcome of the investigations?

Bishop Malzaire stated that on July 9, 2013 he called Timothy Moise who he had delegated to head the Administrative Team in the absence of a Parish Priest to inform him that the Diocesan Review Board had not completed its investigations on the situation at hand.

He also said that he met the committee on August 13 to inform them of the situation and the "need to be patient with the process." That advice he said was "not taken."

Bishop Malzaire explained further that it should be borne in mind that the situations pertaining to priests in a diocese in the responsibility of the Bishop.

"That being so, I must remind you that you are taking up a cause that does not belong to you. You seem to have appointed yourselves as judge, jury and executioner in this matter. I am working with a Review Board and awaiting its guidance as it pertains to the results of the investigations.

"I therefore strongly encourage you to desist from these continued threats of protest. You are only bringing harm to God's people in the parish of St. Patrick and the Diocese as a whole. I ask you to do the right thing as a Church Committee, to work with the Episcopal Vicar of your vicariate and the visiting priest who assist him to unite the parishioners in prayer so that as we move forward and the parish can return to normalcy. Continue to pray for your Parish Priest that a just verdict will be reached as soon as possible," Bishop Malzaire stated.

In response, Armour Thomas, a member of the group chiding the Bishop on the manner he has so far dealt with the matter.

"Bishop, if the matter before you was dealt by you with the merit, the situation would not have been what it is today. The truth of the matter which surrounds the situation is in black and white and is available," he wrote. "I only wish that they are concealed and remain confidential for the preservation of the Diocese. You had too many players involved in the case resulting in dictatorial situations which caused it to escape from your hands creating such embarrassments to you."