The question, “Why now?” has been asked more than once. With David Primeaux pushing daisies going on four months, why even do a story, much less a follow-up? Why expose a dead man’s secrets?
My answer is Peter Smithson and Bradford Port (not their real names, as the story, "The Day Primeaux Died," indicates), and the many other victims of Primeaux, most of whom quietly and anonymously carry the anger and shame of what he did to them — emotions made even more raw by a church hierarchy historically inclined to protect its shepherds rather than its sheep. Most of the victims, I suspect, had no idea where Primeaux melted off to, what he was doing or that he was dead. Don’t they deserve to know?
Some of them, like Peter, managed to move on with their lives and become successful adults. For them, the trauma of molestation is a shadow that trails them, and shadows have no substance — they’re just an absence of light. But for others, like Bradford, the emotional wound never closes, and self-medication through substance abuse — and the dysfunction it engenders (and in Bradford’s case, suicide) — is a ready remedy.
The men who traveled from Lafayette to Petersburg, Va., last Dec. 27 (Peter and Roger Port, Bradford’s nephew) were propelled by a complexity of motivations. Exacting revenge for the emotional wreckage Primeaux wrought and then left behind without legal repercussion was one of them. But I believe them when they tell me altruism — isolating David Primeaux, rendering him a pariah to prevent him from ever preying on children again — was the flag waving highest on their pole.
“Pedophilia in the Catholic Church is not new now. I think getting the families out there to try to pull that from their children to see if anything happened will be long-term for the greater good,” says Roger. “I think we have an obligation, if there are people in that town he was doing it to as [Peter] and I suspected, that the community and families can approach their kids. That’s the Christian outcome to something like this.”
As Judy Smithson, Peter’s wife and the de facto moderator of the informal David Primeaux survivor support group here in Acadiana, puts it, “You can live as a victim or live as survivors, and it’s a choice you make. You can blame Father Primeaux your whole life, or you can say, ‘You know what, what happened to me took away what I can’t fix, but I can maybe help the next person.’”
But helping the next person is made the more difficult by the Richmond media’s uncanny aversion to this story. Soon after its publication I sent a link to “The One Who Got Away” to all the major media in Richmond — the TV network affiliates, the daily. Only two reporters reached out to me: a staff writer for The Commonwealth Times, Virginia Commonwealth University’s student newspaper, with whom I shared information (but as of this writing I have yet to see any reporting); and an investigative reporter for one of the TV stations, who replied, “Hi Walter, fascinating story. I had no idea. If he wasn’t dead already, I’d jump on it in a heart beat. I’ll have to think about whether this is worth tackling and run it by my boss. Thanks for the heads up.”
I never heard back from him.
Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder. There are treatments to suppress it — counseling and pharmacological intervention — but there is no cure short of chemical (or physical) castration. Was David Primeaux still molesting children? We may never know. But there is some evidence that his volunteer activities might have given him access to adolescents. Counseling for those kids, if they were violated, could prevent decades of anguish. Just ask Peter and Bradford.