For Second Time in a Week, a New, Decades-old Claim of New Orleans Clergy Molestation Emerges
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
April 12, 2019
For the second time in a week, a man has come forward with new claims that he was molested decades ago by a New Orleans-area Catholic priest who was only publicly identified as a suspected child abuser last year.
A lawsuit filed Thursday by an unnamed plaintiff in Orleans Parish Civil District Court accused Lawrence Hecker, 87, of fondling a group of boys who were attending St. Joseph School in Gretna in 1968, 10 years after his ordination.
The suit against Hecker joins a string of other civil court cases – mostly ongoing – that have been filed against Catholic Church officials in New Orleans following Archbishop Gregory Aymond’s disclosure on Nov. 2 of a list of clerics who had been faced with credible allegations of sexually abusing children.
Hecker appeared on that list and joins other still-living, defrocked clerics on that roster to be confronted by accusers who had not come forward before the release.
According to the new 19-page suit, the plaintiff was in middle school at St. Joseph when Hecker took him and other boys at the school behind the altar at the church. The lawsuit accused Hecker of lining the boys up shoulder-to-shoulder, ordering them to drop their pants and showing them “what it was like to get a hernia exam” by groping the children’s genitals.
The lawsuit recounts how a separate allegation of child sexual abuse disclosed in 1996 led the church to remove Hecker from ministry in 2002, when the U.S. clergy molestation scandal hit a fever pitch in Boston.
Prepared by attorneys Soren Gisleson, Jed Cain, John Denenea and Richard Trahant, the lawsuit accuses church officials of failing to protect the plaintiff from harm. It also contends that Catholic leaders for years covered up that Hecker had been the subject of other credible child sex abuse allegations, which would prevent the church from arguing that the defendant waited too long to file suit.
The plaintiff demanded compensation for damages from two insurance companies, Hecker and the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
In a statement, the plaintiff’s legal team said, “Our research has revealed that most victims have lived their lives believing that they were the only ones abused by the particular priests who abused them, but once they realize they are not alone, they are empowered to courageously bring these claims.”
The statement continued, in part, “These victims do become empowered when they can tell their stories, and finally attempt to control the direction of their lives, rather than being permanently silenced by their abusers and the church.”
During a brief phone conversation Friday, Hecker said the allegations “are not true.” He said he was unaware he had been sued until a reporter contacted him.
The Archdiocese declined comment on the case. Archdiocesan officials have previously said that the insurance groups named in the suit are only available for claims over incidents that occurred in more recent years, after the companies were founded.
Gisleson, Cain, Denenea and Trahant are representing clients with other similar pending claims.
One new local lawsuit they were not involved in was filed April 5. In that case, an unnamed plaintiff came forward with claims that he was molested in about 1969 by a late, Jesuit priest named Edward DeRussy, who had been included on a Dec. 7 roster of Jesuit order personnel credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.
Lists like the one naming Hecker have since been released by religious orders and other Louisiana dioceses as Catholic leaders aim to earn back the trust of parishioners disgusted by the latest aftershocks of the decades-old clergy abuse crisis. Hecker in late January also appeared on the list released by the Diocese of Baton Rouge, where he served at St. Mary in New Roads.
Nearly a year ago, Hecker and other clerics who were defrocked as a result of sex abuse allegations appeared on a list of retired priests for whom the New Orleans archdiocese was collecting money.
The archdiocese has said a removal from ministry – or defrocking – is not a full-fledged exile from the church, which is legally obligated to pay priests their share of the pension plan if they contributed to it before retiring.