NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state grand jury has charged a now-91-year-old disgraced priest with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1975, an extraordinary prosecution that could shed new light on what Roman Catholic Church leaders knew about a child sex abuse crisis that persisted for decades and claimed hundreds of victims.
The priest, Lawrence Hecker, has been at the center of state and federal investigations of clergy sex abuse and a deepening scandal over why church leaders failed to report his admissions to law enforcement even as they permitted him to work around 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 felony counts of rape, kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature and theft. He is accused of choking the teen unconscious under the guise of performing a wrestling move and sexually assaulting him.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Hecker declined to talk about the charges. His attorney, Eugene Redmann, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The indictment comes amid a years-old legal battle over a trove of secret church records that were shielded by a sweeping confidentiality order after the archdiocese sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2020 amid a flood of abuse claims. The records are said to chronicle years of such claims, interviews with accused clergy and a pattern of church leaders transferring problem priests without reporting their crimes to law enforcement.
The AP reported last year that the documents, including a deposition of Hecker, have drawn the attention of the FBI and federal prosecutors, who are considering federal charges against priests accused of taking children across state lines to molest them. The Guardian recently reported the church files on Hecker include a written confession and other explosive documents suggesting the last four archbishops of New Orleans had reason to believe he was a child molester.
Associated Press writer Kevin McGill contributed to this report.
Jim Mustian, The Associated Press