Priest, Two Women Arrested for Alleged Group Sex on Louisiana Church Altar

A priest and two women were arrested in Louisiana after allegedly engaging in a sexual act on a Catholic church's altar, one of the most sacred sites in the Catholic tradition.

Pearl River Police Department officers arrested the Reverend Travis Clark, 37, on September 30 after an onlooker noticed an unusual scene at the Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Pearl River, a town located just northeast of New Orleans.

Just before 11 p.m., a passerby saw that the church's lights were on later than usual and decided to check things out, The New Orleans Advocate reported. The unidentified person looked through windows and glass doors and saw Clark half-naked—but still wearing his priestly attire—and having sex with two women on the altar, according to court documents.

The eyewitness took a video and called the Pearl River police, who arrived at the scene and viewed the recording, according to the Advocate. The officers saw two women clad in corsets and high-heeled boots by the altar, with "lights set up around them as if they were filming some type of event," the court documents said.

Clark wasn't on the altar by the time police arrived, but one of the officers tried to reach him on his phone, the Advocate reported. Police then ordered the women to let them inside, which is when the officers noticed that a mobile phone and camera were mounted on two tripods.

The women, who were later identified as Melissa Cheng and Mindy Dixon, allegedly told police they were at the church with Clark's permission and were recording themselves in "role play," the Advocate reported.

When Clark arrived at the church soon afterward, he gave an account similar to what the women had said. Officers determined that the alleged sexual activity was consensual but arrested the three participants, who were accused of breaking a Louisiana law prohibiting people from having sex in public view, according to the Advocate.

Dixon is an adult film actress and works for hire as a dominatrix, according to public records. The Advocate reported that a social media account associated with Dixon includes a post from September 29 saying she was on her way to the New Orleans area to meet another dominatrix "and defile a house of God."

Clark, Cheng and Dixon were booked on obscenity charges. All three are out of jail on bond, pending the outcome of the case, the Advocate reported. Clark was released on $25,000 bond. Cheng, 23, of Alpharetta, Georgia, and Dixon, 41, of Kent, Washington state, each posted bonds of $7,500, records show.

If convicted of obscenity, a felony crime in Louisiana, each could face a fine of up to $2,500 and six months to three years in prison.

Newsweek contacted the Pearl River Police Department for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Catholic Church Altar
Pope Francis prays at the altar of Saint Elizabeth before evening prayer services at Manhattan's St. Patrick's Cathedral on September 24, 2015. Mary Altaffer-Pool/Getty

The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced Clark's arrest on October 1, noting that he was suspended from the ministry. But it did not give specifics about why he was taken into custody, nor would the police, according to the Advocate.

The priest was ordained in 2013 and has served at Saints Peter and Paul since 2019, the Advocate reported. Clark was recently named chaplain of Pope John Paul II Catholic High School in Slidell, south of Pearl River, in addition to his position at the church.

The court filings provide new details in the case, with Clark's alleged actions amounting to serious consequences within the Catholic Church, in addition to violating state law.

The altar, one of the most sacred places in any church, is meant to be the centerpiece and sole focus of the sanctuary. It serves as the location at which many significant Catholic traditions and rituals are celebrated, including Mass and the Eucharist.

According to church law, known as canon law, when sacred places are violated they must be "repaired by penitential rite" before they can be used again in the Mass, the Advocate said. Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Aymond went to Saints Peter and Paul days after Clark's arrest and performed a ritual to restore the altar's sanctity, according to the Advocate.

Pearl River Town Council member Kat Walsh, a lifelong member of the church, told the Advocate that the parishioners are the most upset by the arrests.

"What upsets me is, Why did he have to do that there?" Walsh said. "I'm upset for all of us, the parishioners of the church. Why there?"

The Saints Peter and Paul congregation liked Clark and felt he was easy to get along with, Walsh said.

Aymond sent a letter to parishioners on Monday explaining that the Reverend Carol Shirima would replace Clark beginning October 11, the Advocate reported.