CHESTER — A Franciscan friar who served as dean of Widener University’s School of Education before abruptly resigning in July was accused by a teenage boy of sexual abuse while he served at a Catholic parish in New Hampshire.
In July, Widener officials were tipped off to the allegations and informed Michael Ledoux that he would suspended until an investigation could be completed, according to university Director of Public Relations Dan Hanson.
“University officials immediately met with (Ledoux) about the allegations and told him he would be placed on administrative leave pending an investigation,” Hanson wrote in an email Friday. “Dr. Ledoux chose to resign instead.”
The accusations were first levied by a man who said Ledoux had performed oral sex on him while he was a teenager in the 1980s. The alleged victim came forward in the 2000s, according to a complaint form filed with the Diocese of Manchester.
An attorney representing the alleged victim contacted the diocese on Jan. 23, 2003, to report the abuse. Diocesan officials learned that Ledoux’s provincial superior in his Franciscan order had been aware of the allegations for several months before the complaint was lodged.
The alleged abuse included a charge that Ledoux performed oral sex on the victim at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Derry, N.H., in 1987 or 1988. Ledoux was assigned to that parish between April 1986 and September 1989. The diocese immediately forwarded the complaint to the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office.
A civil suit settlement between the Franciscan order and the alleged victim included a financial settlement and an agreement from the Franciscan Provincial Father Robert Campagna that Ledoux would reside in a Franciscan facility for retired priests,” according to attorney Carmen Durso, who represented the accuser. Ledoux would not be permitted to leave the facility without another priest’s accompaniment.
“My client felt assured that this guy (Ledoux) would not have the opportunity to abuse any other kids,” Durso said in a phone interview Friday.
Clearly, that was not the case as Ledoux was hired to work at Neumann University and then Widener in 2003. Reference checks conducted at the time of his hiring did not indicate any issues, according to Hanson.
Part of the problem is that when victims come forward with claims of sexual abuse at the hands of adults, especially priests, too much time has passed for criminal proceedings to take place, leaving civil litigation as the only recourse.
Civil charges do not leave any fingerprints on an alleged abuser’s criminal record, as is evident by a clean report run on Ledoux when he assumed an administrative role at the Widener Partnership Charter School in 2006, when the school opened. All employees who would be working with the charter school had criminal background and child sexual abuse checks conducted, according to Hanson.
“These checks did not reveal any improper or illegal activity or any allegations,” Hanson said. “No criminal charges have ever been filed against Dr. Ledoux, and the civil lawsuit in which his name … appeared was settled.”
Ledoux served in a administrative role at the school and he did not have an office or teach a class. No visitors, even administrators, are permitted unsupervised access to the school, Hanson said.
“We have no reason to believe that students at the charter school faced any danger due to Dr. Ledoux’s employment at the university,” Hanson said.
That is borne out by Widener’s assurance that no complaints arose during or after Ledoux’s tenure at the university.
“There were never any allegations or any hint of improper behavior during Dr. Ledoux’s nine-year tenure at the university,” Hanson said. “After Dr. Ledoux’s resignation, the university conducted an investigation using outside counsel and this revealed no improper conduct during his time at Widener.”
A Philadelphia Inquirer report published Friday indicated that Ledoux is currently residing in a Franciscan facility in New England and has no contact with children. The report also quotes Ledoux as professing his innocence of the original charges, something with which Durso takes issue.
“It was my understanding from the people in the order that (Ledoux) had not contested the charges,” Durso said of the legal settlement from nearly 10 years ago. “If he wants to rewrite history, that’s fine. Father Campagna said (then) that he believed that what my client said was true… The fact that he resigned and has accepted going to this facility, that speaks volumes about whether these allegations are true.”
Durso has not been in contact with his client since the settlement and couldn’t say whether he was aware of Ledoux’s past employment at Widener, but did say that he was disappointed that the agreement between his client and the order was not honored.
“I’ve dealt with both the (order’s) lawyer and (Father Campagna) in other cases and it was always my guess that they were straight shooters,” Durso said. “I want to believe that this was just a mechanical mix-up.”
Durso has handled a lot of clergy abuse cases and is concerned that Ledoux had so much freedom even after he was supposed to be relegated to the facility to care for older priests, which he said was an unusual arrangement.
“The experience that I have with people who do these types of things is that they have a tendency to keep doing them when they get the opportunity,” Durso said. “That’s what I’m concerned about and that’s what my client was concerned about (when he came forward in 2003).”
Durso said in one case he handled, a priest abused children for a span of more than 30 years.
“I’m happy if there are no reports that he’s done something else,” Durso said.