A 91-year-old disgraced priest, Lawrence Hecker, has been charged by a state grand jury with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1975. This prosecution is a significant development that could potentially shed light on what Roman Catholic Church leaders knew about the long-standing child sex abuse crisis that affected hundreds of victims.
Hecker’s case has been at the center of state and federal investigations into clergy sex abuse. It has also raised questions about why church leaders did not report his admissions to law enforcement while allowing him to continue working with children until he quietly left the ministry in 2002. It wasn’t until 2018 that the Archdiocese of New Orleans publicly identified Hecker as a suspected predator when it released its list of “credibly accused” priests.
Hecker faces serious felony charges, including rape, kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature, and theft. He is accused of sexually assaulting a teenager after rendering him unconscious under the guise of demonstrating a wrestling move.
Hecker declined to comment on the charges when reached by telephone, and his attorney, Eugene Redmann, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This indictment comes amid an ongoing legal battle over confidential church records that were shielded by a sweeping confidentiality order after the archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020 due to a surge in abuse claims. These records reportedly contain extensive information on abuse claims, interviews with accused clergy, and a pattern of church leaders transferring problematic priests without reporting their crimes to law enforcement.
In the past year, the FBI and federal prosecutors have shown interest in these documents, considering potential federal charges against priests who allegedly transported children across state lines for molestation. Reports have also suggested that the church files on Hecker include a written confession and other documents indicating that the last four archbishops of New Orleans may have known about his actions.
The current archbishop, Gregory Aymond, has resisted calls by clergy abuse survivors to step down, indicating that he would only do so when canonically required upon turning 75. Aymond did not respond to requests for comment.
The Orleans Parish district attorney, Jason Williams, expressed the belief that Hecker should have faced prosecution much earlier and that they had to vigorously fight for this outcome in both the courts and behind the scenes.
Attorneys representing the alleged victim hailed the indictment as a victory for all survivor-victims of clergy sexual abuse. They emphasized that Hecker had evaded justice for decades under the protection of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
New allegations against Hecker have emerged as recently as this year, with one alleged victim stating that Hecker forced him and other altar boys to strip naked in 1983 under the pretense of inspection. Another survivor, Aaron Hebert, has described abuse by Hecker in the late 1960s, alleging that Hecker fondled him and other classmates while pretending to demonstrate a hernia examination.
Despite multiple red flags, admissions by Hecker, and a complaint of child molestation in the late 1980s, Hecker was relocated to different parishes at least ten times. Shockingly, even after monumental admissions in 1988 and 1999, the archdiocese failed to report him to authorities.
The age of the Hecker case presents challenges for prosecutors, both in terms of legal and evidentiary aspects and the sensitivity of prosecuting a longtime clergyman in a predominantly Catholic region like New Orleans. Many predator priests in Louisiana have avoided criminal consequences due to these challenges.
You can also read: Danny Masterson Sentenced to 30 Years to Life for Rape
One notable exception was the prosecution of George F. Brignac in 2019, a deacon and schoolteacher accused of first-degree rape. Brignac faced multiple sex abuse claims involving a former altar boy who reported repeated sexual assaults in the 1970s. Brignac passed away in 2020 while awaiting trial at the age of 85.
Legal proceedings involving Brignac exposed numerous emails showing behind-the-scenes public relations efforts by New Orleans Saints executives on behalf of the archdiocese in 2018 and 2019 to manage the fallout from clergy abuse scandals. These emails, like other secret church records, remain undisclosed.
The ongoing call for accountability and transparency in addressing the historical clergy abuse crisis is echoed by advocates for survivors of abuse. They emphasize the need for the church to fully disclose information regarding the transfer of known abusers and their actions to ensure justice and healing for victims who suffered due to the church’s inaction.