Judge denies unsealing testimony of former priest who admitted to sexual abuse

WWL-TV [New Orleans LA]

August 28, 2023

By David Hammer

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled that a deposition given in 2020 by Father Lawrence Hecker should remain under seal.

A federal judge on Monday denied a motion to unseal sworn testimony given by a retired Catholic priest who recently admitted on camera to WWL-TV that he sexually abused several teens in the 1960s and 1970s.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo ruled that a deposition given in 2020 by Father Lawrence Hecker should remain under seal. She said attorneys did not follow the proper procedure to get the documents unsealed.

Aaron Hebert, who says he was 13 when Hecker fondled his and other middle school boys’ genitals in a Gretna church in 1968, was able to get Hecker, now 91, to testify because of his advanced age, even after his case had been stopped by the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ bankruptcy.

Hebert’s attorney, Richard Trahant, says Hecker admitted to crimes in his deposition and argued in front of Milazzo in June that the deposition and thousands of pages from Hecker’s personnel file should be unsealed. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams joined the motion, saying he needed the files to properly investigate possible crimes.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans turned over Hecker’s full personnel file the day before the hearing, which Milazzo said made moot the public safety reason to unseal the documents.

Some of those documents were obtained by The Guardian newspaper, which shared them with WWL-TV. Among the documents was a typed statement from 1999 in which Hecker admitted to sexually abusing three underage boys and having inappropriate relations with at least four others.

Reporters for WWL-TV and The Guardian went to interview Hecker with the 1999 statement and a diagnosis of pedophilia from a psychiatric treatment facility in Pennsylvania. Confronted with the records, Hecker admitted to committing “overlty sexual acts” with three boys, including saying that a 15-year-old was “100% willing.” 

Hecker said in the on-camera interview that he was “remorseful” and now knows what he did was wrong, but said he was caught up in the sexual revolution and thought at the time he was “free” to do what he did. He said he didn’t know if he should face criminal punishment.

In fact, it was against Louisiana law in the 1960s and 70s for an adult to have sex with children under the age of 17 or to touch the genitals of anyone under the age of 15, just as it is today.