When former deacon Scott Peyton opened his mailbox one day in March and saw a letter from the Diocese of Lafayette, he knew it was not good.

“I remember we were in the car,” his wife, Letitia Peyton, said. “He grabbed it out of the box, and he was like, 'uh oh, I have to read this.'”

“At first, I didn’t understand it," Peyton said. “It used Latin words and canon quotes. I don’t know what anything means. I thought I was being laicized, but I got excommunicated.”

The letter came months after Peyton wrote Dec. 4 to tell Lafayette Bishop Douglas Deshotel that he had chosen to step away from the diaconate and the Catholic Church after years of legal and civil battles against Father Michael Guidry, the priest who molested his then 16-year-old son in 2016. The Church's inaction, he said, had “shaken (his) faith and trust in the institution.”

Read: Louisiana deacon excommunicated from Catholic Church

Peyton's son divulged in 2018 that he had been molested by Guidry, whom Peyton worked alongside in the small town of Morrow for many years at St. Peter’s Church.

Guidry?pleaded guilty to the abuse, admitting he?had provided alcohol to the teenager and molested him in his intoxicated state.

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In the family's home, filled with Catholic iconography, Peyton said they were reminded daily of the betrayal. Peyton would find himself staring into the mirror, he said, dressed in religious gowns that were once a source of pride.

“When I put on the collared shirt and looked in the mirror, I looked just like the person that molested our son,” Peyton said.

“I’m not destroying the Church," Peyton said.

“My reason for leaving is not because I don’t believe in A, B, C of the theology of the Catholic Church. It’s because I believe you (Deshotel) and your brothers ... all the way up to Rome are not taking clergy sex abuse seriously,” Peyton said.

The diocese did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Two types of excommunication

Official excommunication from the Catholic Church is a big deal and is incredibly rare. Typically it only happens for what the church considers serious offenses such as?marrying or supporting same-sex couples or continuing to preach after being laicized. Laicization is returning clergy members to a regular non-ordained state.

There are two types of excommunication: automatic and imposed.

An imposed excommunication follows a trial-like setting, Kelly O’Donnell, a Catholic Church canon lawyer in California, said. Someone is accused of something, and they are formally notified that they are being investigated. They then go through a court procedure to determine whether they committed the accused act and are officially excommunicated from the church or allowed back into the flock.

Automatic excommunications happen all the time, Peyton said. Anytime a parishioner sins, they are excommunicated, in spirit, from the Church until they confess their sins. When Scott sent the Dec. 4 email, he was aware that he would be excluded from receiving Communion, he said.

His departure was supposed to be quiet and under the radar so that he could return at any time if he attended confession, he said.

Almost no one receives an official letter telling them they are excommunicated, Peyton said.

“By decree, he does an extra step. He makes it harder for me,” Peyton said. “It is an automatic excommunication for me to leave the Church, but I wasn’t expecting to be (formally) excommunicated because thousands of people leave the diocese, leave the Catholic Church, to attend another church.”

Now if he wishes to return, he must confess and apologize to Deshotel, Peyton said.

In his letter, Deshotel says he is required to censure Scott because of his actions having “theological and canonical effects beyond your own private intentions.” The letter reads, “I hope you understand that I have duties which cannot be omitted.”

In the letter, the bishop cites several canonical laws as the basis for his official decree of excommunication. Scott said an official decree would require due process, more in line with an imposed excommunication.

O’Donnell disagreed. The canon lawyer said the diocese essentially has unilateral decision-making abilities and does not need to consult with anyone regarding automatic excommunication. She said a letter was likely sent because Peyton is a public figure as a deacon.

She also said he should not be surprised that he received the letter; his decision to leave the Church, step down from his position and attend another church is a clear way to get excommunicated. Peyton joined an Anglican church in January after he stepped down from the Church in December, but it was not made public until after receiving Deshotel’s decree in March, he said.

“He did it to himself, that’s what’s so incredible,” O’Donnell said.

'They know in their hearts'

Peyton said he believes he received the letter because of his legal battles with the church.

“Canon law right now is being used against me and my family. But they can’t use it against Guidry. Guidry walks out after molesting a child and going to prison and being a convicted felon and a liar and can receive the sacraments of the Church. Whereas I, the father of the victim, am prohibited to.”

Instead of worrying about his actions, Peyton said he believes the Church should be focused on holding to account clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. In 2019, the diocese produced a list of 33 priests?who had credible allegations of sexual abuse against them.?

It is unclear if Guidry has been excommunicated or laicized. The diocese is not required to produce that information, and, so far, has been unwilling to answer those questions.

Sex abuse and rape are not, in and of themselves, excommunicable offenses, according to the Pillar, a news site dedicated to covering the Catholic Church. They also say that excommunications are for situations of an “ongoing nature and meant to prompt a conversation or change a situation,” whereas rape requires “expiatory penalties” or a long-lasting penalty like laicization, according to the Pillar.

The Pillar was also unsuccessful at contacting the Diocese.

The diocese confirmed Guidry was removed from public ministry. Because of his age, O'Donnell speculates that he will likely not face many repercussions other than possible retirement after he gets out of prison.

“He will move somewhere of the bishop’s choice where he’s not near any schools or children. They call it living a perpetual life of penance,” O’Donnell said.

If Guidry is not laicized, he still might receive financial support from the Church and might be moved to a nursing home run by the Church when he leaves prison, Letitia Peyton said.

The Peytons said they would like to see more transparency from the diocese regarding precisely what is taking place to hold to account credibly accused pedophiles and sexual abusers in the church.

“One thing that always gets left out of the story is that there are other priests that are credibly accused that are in this diocese and no one knows where they are. Robie Robichaux, we don’t know where he is. He’s been removed by where is he?” Letitia said.

Robichaux allegedly abused a juvenile girl between 1979 and 1981. The diocese removed Robichaux from his high-ranking position in 2018. LexisNexis, a people-finder application, still places Robichaux in Lafayette. The Robichaux listed on the application has a similar connection with the Diocese and St. Mary Mother of the Church.

The lack of transparency led Letitia Peyton to create Tentmakers, an emotional support group for victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, she said.

Lack of proper acknowledgment and support from the diocese regarding sexual abuse has created an environment of fear and cover-ups, she said.

“It is not fleeting; it’s not happening only over here and over there. It’s happening a lot and it’s happening to a lot of younger women,” Letitia Peyton said. “What we’re saying will help victims and survivors come forward and hold their priest more accountable. They know in their hearts that things are wrong.”

Peyton said he might one day seek to return to the Catholic Church, but he said it would require serious changes in the church that align with his principles and understanding of the Bible. For now, he and his wife will continue going to the Anglican church they joined in January.

Stephen Marcantel writes for The Acadiana Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Email him at stephen.marcantel@theadvocate.com.

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