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WDSU Investigates asks New Orleans archbishop if priest accused of sex abuse should be in jail

By Aubry Killion

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    NEW ORLEANS (WDSU) — Lawrence Hecker, a retired priest, is accused of being a serial child molester.

Survivors are demanding answers and closure, while the bankrupt Archdiocese of New Orleans says they are cooperating with law enforcement.

WDSU spoke with Archbishop Gregory Aymond Wednesday briefly as he was entering a mass.

WDSU asked Aymond does he believe Hecker should be in jail?

“I have mass this evening,” Aymond said.

Aymond from a distance said he reported to law enforcement and did not take any additional questions.

WDSU asked to interview Aymond after mass and has not heard back.

“I see that face looking up at me when he is going through my genitals at the time,” one of Hecker’s accusers said.

The survivor alleges Hecker molested him in the 1960s when he was a child. He responded to the moment WDSU Investigates tracked Hecker down.

“There is good and bad in everybody,” Hecker said.

WDSU asked Hecker if he’d ever touched a child.

“Oh my goodness, you mean touch a child?” Hecker said.

WDSU also asked him, “Have you ever physically or sexually assaulted a child?”

“I am afraid there’s some trick or something. I just don’t want to get involved with all this,” Hecker said.

WDSU also asked, “Have you ever in your life as a former priest touched a child?”

“No comment,” Hecker said.

Hecker’s accuser showed anger and frustration while watching the interview.

“The problem is he doesn’t know how to answer you to make himself look innocent,” Hecker’s accuser said.

Hecker has never been charged with a crime.

The archdiocese has kept a deposition by Hecker sealed. Court records show it could be getting closer to finally being made public.

The archdiocese turned over its files on Hecker to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office after its prosecutors issued the church a subpoena. Attorneys for the accusers allege documents related to the deposition reveal prosecutable crimes.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond declined our requests for an interview for this story. Aymond and the Archdiocese of New Orleans adamantly deny that allegations of sexual abuse were mishandled.

Aymond and the archdiocese issued the following statements:

“All of the allegations against Lawrence Hecker that are now known to the archdiocese date prior to 1984, and the first information regarding abuse by Hecker was reported to us in 1996. The Archdiocese of New Orleans reported Hecker to Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, New Orleans Police Department, Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office, and St. Charles Parish District Attorney’s Office over a period of time from 2002-2003.

These reports included the allegation of crossing state lines. Hecker was again reported to law enforcement in 2018 following the release of the list of clergy removed from ministry for abuse of a minor. The archdiocese reported Hecker to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office again in 2020. The Archdiocese of New Orleans is aware of two additional instances where a 3rd party survivor made a complaint to law enforcement against Hecker. The first was in 2012-2013 to Gretna Police Department and most recently in 2023 to Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. The archdiocese continues to cooperate with law enforcement.”

WDSU asked each law enforcement entity mentioned for comment.

District Attorney Jason WIlliams is investigating:

“The District Attorney’s office is tasked with assessing facts and evidence surrounding the commission of a crime to determine whether formal charges are warranted. It is immeasurably problematic anytime documents pertaining to a crime are concealed or inaccessible to law enforcement and prosecutors with jurisdiction. A single sentence, a photograph, or a phrase from a deposition, file or statement could be the determining factor in whether a survivor of sexual abuse ever achieves justice.

“There is possibly evidence of abuse against a child or even multiple children within these sealed records. We won’t know unless we see it. The continued secrecy of these documents serves as a major obstacle to a proper investigation. Sworn deposition testimony concerning the commission of a crime should not be withheld from a prosecutorial authority merely because reputations may be harmed. The physical, emotional or mental harm from sexual abuse lasts a lifetime. Evidence that a crime has been committed should be brought before the proper criminal court. Thus, we are urging the federal court to unseal the sworn testimony of former Rev. Lawrence Hecker, as well as any other records held in secret by the New Orleans Archdiocese regarding Hecker. This is necessary to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against an accused child rapist.”

Gretna Police responded, saying the statute of limitations prevented an arrest from happening.

The Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office issued the following statement:

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans has previously provided this office with Lawrence Hecker’s name as a priest who was accused of committing sexual abuse in the 1960s. To date, we have no record of any victims that have come forward to this office with allegations against Lawrence Hecker. Additionally, no cases against Lawrence Hecker have been submitted to the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office by law enforcement for our review.”

NOPD issued WDSU the following statement:

“In speaking with our Special Victims Section’s Sex Crimes Unit, we’ve been informed that the cold case detective assigned to cases related to the Archdiocese of New Orleans is not aware of any sexual assault report notifications regarding an individual identified as Lawrence Hecker.

“To further verify reports that were made in 2002-03, the detective would need all victim names from these alleged incidents to verify information provided by the archdiocese to NOPD during that time period.

“The Sex Crimes Unit will respond to and investigate any reported sexual assault incidents. Anyone seeking to make a report in order to begin the investigatory process can call the unit at 504-658-5523 to speak with a detective.”

WDSU asked if Aymond wants the deposition sealed.

“This has been part of extensive arguments in court and a decision regarding this is currently under advisement with Judge Millazzo. Beyond our arguments that are part of the court record, we cannot offer any response.”

Court records show an estimated $26 million in attorney and professional fees have been paid by the archdiocese. WDSU asked why the figure is so high.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans is extremely displeased with the costs and time the Chapter 11 Reorganization proceedings have taken. We fully support and are working towards fair compensation for all claimants, abuse survivors as well as other creditors. Our decision to file for Chapter 11 Reorganization was specifically to ensure that all survivors of sexual abuse were fairly and effectively compensated. The complications that have arisen in these bankruptcy proceedings could not have been predicted, have driven up the cost, consumed valuable time and added to a shared feeling of frustration amongst survivors, claimants, and the archdiocese.

“My focus is bringing the bankruptcy proceedings to their conclusion so that the survivors can be fairly compensated. I know that there is no amount of money that can bring healing to those who have been hurt. We will continue to learn from the past. We will continue to look for ways to strengthen our safe environment programs and are meeting with survivors to review and enhance our current protocols for responding to allegations of abuse. I only hope that my prayers and the pastoral support the survivors are able to receive will help them and bring them peace.”

WDSU asked what the total dollar amount of assets is the archdiocese currently has.

“That is not a figure I can provide at this time,” a spokesperson said.

The archdiocese released the following information related to Hecker:

Ordination: 1958

Estimated Timeframe of Abuse: late 1960s; 1970s

Allegation Received: 1996

Removed from Ministry: 2002

Pastoral Assignments:

Christ the King, Terrytown

Holy Family, Luling

Holy Rosary, New Orleans

Our Lady of Lourdes, New Orleans

St. Anthony, Luling

St. Bernadette, Houma

St. Charles Borromeo, in residence

St. Frances Cabrini, New Orleans

St. Francis Xavier, Metairie

St. Joseph, Gretna

“One thing that I discovered about going through this: you become a victim first, then you become a survivor. Now I’m an advocate,” Hecker’s accuser said.

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