A former altar boy testified against a former Roman Catholic priest at the start of his criminal trial on rape charges, describing a trip to Rome in which he said the priest first assaulted him.
The Rev. George Robichaud is the first priest to face criminal charges in New Hampshire since the church-abuse scandal erupted 18 months ago. He has pleaded innocent to charges of rape and attempted rape.
In October 1984, the alleged victim said Robichaud invited him to Italy, where he was attending a conference at the Vatican. The boy stayed for seven days in an adjoining room at a convent and he said that Robichaud assaulted him, lying on top of him fully clothed.
The victim was an altar boy and testified that Robichaud befriended him in 1984 when the priest was pastor of St. Anthony’s and St. Stephen’s churches in Swanzey.
The alleged victim, who had family problems at the time, said Robichaud became a father figure to him. He testified that Robichaud “would listen to me and I would get hugs from him when I wasn’t getting them from my dad, and it felt nice.” Sometimes, the priest would kiss him, he said.
In the spring of 1985, Robichaud took the boy to his cottage on Lake Winnisquam, fondled him and had sex with him briefly, the man testified. The charges resulted from that incident.
In his opening statement, Robichaud’s lawyer, Peter Callaghan, spoke of problems with the timeline of events. He said there were questions about how old the victim was when the alleged rape occurred. The age of consent in New Hampshire is 16.
A grand jury indicted Robichaud on charges of rape and attempted rape.
He faces 7 to 15 years in prison on the rape charge under sentencing provisions in effect in 1985. The same crime today carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years.