A man who last year accused a Roman Catholic priest of raping him when he was a teenager testified Tuesday that he had regarded the priest as an affectionate, caring father figure.
Now a 33-year-old New Hampshire state trooper, the man testified at the trial of the Rev. George Robichaud, the first priest to face criminal charges in New Hampshire since the church-abuse scandal erupted 18 months ago.
The man said he came forward because Robichaudâ€™s name was not on a Manchester Diocese-released list of priests against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse had been made.
Robichaud, 58, has pleaded innocent. The Diocese of Manchester placed Robichaud on leave from St. Ceciliaâ€™s in Wolfeboro and St. Joan of Arc in Alton a year ago, after he was accused of assaulting the boy.
In his opening statement, Robichaudâ€™s lawyer, Peter Callaghan, spoke of problems with the timeline of events. He said that when the man first spoke up about the alleged assault in 1996 when he was given a polygraph test for a state trooper job he said he was 16 at the time, the age of consent in New Hampshire. The man also indicated that he and Robichaud were fully clothed.
Callaghan said when he took the manâ€™s deposition in December, “at the end, I asked him, â€˜You must have some doubt about how old you were.â€™ … He concedes he had doubt, and he concedes he could have been 16.”
A Belknap County grand jury indicted Robichaud on charges of rape and attempted rape. He faces 7Â½ 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.
The accuser, who was an altar boy, said Robichaud befriended him in 1984 when the priest was pastor of St. Anthonyâ€™s and St. Stephenâ€™s churches in Swanzey. He said he would go to the rectory for dinner with Robichaud after Sunday Mass. At the time, he was having problems at home.
“My dad is a recovering alcoholic,” he said. “I didnâ€™t get a lot of affection from him.”
He testified that Robichaud, whom he called “Father George,” “would listen to me and I would get hugs from him when I wasnâ€™t getting them from my dad, and it felt nice.” Sometimes, the priest would kiss him, he said.
In October 1984, he said Robichaud invited him to Rome, where he was attending a conference at the Vatican. The boy stayed for 7 days in an adjoining room at a convent and he said that was where Robichaud assaulted him for the first time, lying on top of him fully clothed.
“He French-kissed me. I can still taste the alcohol today,” the man testified. “If I could have pushed my head through that pillow and that box spring, I would have, but I had no place to go.”
He said he told no one about the incident. “At 14 years old, itâ€™s kind of embarrassing to talk about things like that … and you know, whoâ€™s going to believe me?” he said.
Once, he said, Robichaud took him to his bedroom at the rectory and lay on top of him. “At first, it was just hugging and kissing but then I could feel his pelvic region,” the man testified. “I was a little unnerved, a little scared because this went beyond just the innocent stuff.”
In the spring of 1985, Robichaud took the boy to his cottage on Lake Winnisquam, fondled him and had anal sex with him briefly, the man testified. The charges resulted from that incident.
The man said he pretended to be asleep but moved away after Robichaud penetrated him. Robichaud tried to rape him again but failed, the man testified.
“I didnâ€™t want it; I didnâ€™t ask for it,” he testified. “Am I absolutely 100 percent sure that I was 15? No but because of the timeline that I have now Iâ€™m confident I was 15,” he said.
Authorities say Robichaud apologized to the man in a conversation secretly recorded by police last year. The priest said he was confused about his sexuality at the time and had “crossed the line,” according to pretrial testimony.
Callaghan denies Robichaud admitted guilt in any recorded conversations.
The transcript of the recording was entered into evidence Tuesday. The tape was to be played Wednesday.
In other developments related to the nationwide clergy abuse scandal:
Prosecutors arrested a former Roman Catholic priest in Florida and charged him with sexually abusing a New Jersey boy. James Hopkins of Stuart, Fla., was charged with aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child for incidents authorities say occurred in 1995. Hopkins was held on $75,000 bail.
A Los Angeles County commissioner ordered a retired Roman Catholic priest to stand trial for allegedly molesting an altar boy decades ago. The priest has pleaded innocent.