Archdiocese of New Orleans clergy abuse records sought by Louisiana State Police

NEW ORLEANS (LA) [New Orleans, LA]

April 24, 2024


An Orleans Parish criminal court judge has ordered the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans to turn over all records related to clergy sex abuse to the Louisiana State Police, a sign that investigators may be expanding their probe into the local church.

Magistrate Judge Juana Lombard signed a search warrant Monday at the request of state police investigators, who have been looking into the local Roman Catholic Church’s clergy sex abuse scandal since 2022, state police spokesman Jacob Pucheu said Wednesday.

The agency’s investigation stems from the ongoing probe into former archdiocesan priest Lawrence Hecker, 91, who is accused of raping multiple children from 1966 through 1979 and was indicted by an Orleans Parish grand jury on rape, kidnapping and theft charges. His trial, scheduled for March, was delayed after his attorneys raised questions about his mental competency.

Pucheu said his agency initiated the probe after receiving “numerous complaints of child sex abuse” in 2022.

“Since then, investigators have executed a search warrant and arrested Hecker,” he said. “As part of the ongoing investigation, investigators obtained an additional search warrant (on Monday) to collect information and documents from the archdiocese.”

Pucheu could not say how many complaints the agency received in 2022 or whether they were all related to Hecker. He also could not say when police executed the first search warrant.

A source familiar with the investigation said investigators uncovered information while poring through documents obtained from the first search warrant that led them to seek additional documents.

“As always, the archdiocese will continue to cooperate in all law enforcement investigations,” the archdiocese said in a prepared statement.

The probe into the archdiocese by the state police indicates that law enforcement is continuing to pursue investigations sparked since Archbishop Gregory Aymond in 2018 released a list of more than 50 clergy credibly accused of abuse. The list, which has since grown to include dozens more names, resulted in a surge of claims that prompted the archdiocese to file for federal bankruptcy protection in 2020.

In addition to the state police probe, the Associated Press reported in 2022 that the FBI had opened an investigation into the archdiocese that was trying to determine whether federal crimes were committed when priests allegedly traveled across state lines with children and then abused them.

District Attorney Jason Williams secured the grand jury indictment against Hecker in September and has vowed to pursue other claims of abuse.

WWL Louisiana and The Guardian first reported the state police’s most recent move to seek additional archdiocesan records. The station said state police are also seeking copies of all communications between Aymond, his aides and their superiors at the Vatican.

Those documents could give investigators a window into what top church officials knew of clergy abuse in the local archdiocese.

The search warrant has not been served yet. Pucheu said the archdiocese is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Bankruptcy progress

The trove of records requested will give state police investigators access to details of clergy sex abuse dating back decades that have been under seal since the church filed for bankruptcy court protection nearly four years ago.

The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy court protection on May 1, 2020, as a way to shield itself from mounting claims of child sex abuse.

At the time, roughly 30 claims and a dozen or so lawsuits had been filed against the church. Since then, about 550 claims stretching back decades have been filed against priests, deacons and other clergy by some 330 abuse survivors.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Meredith Grabill immediately froze all state court lawsuits and sealed documents related to church abuse after the bankruptcy was filed.

The search warrant comes as lawyers for the church, abuse survivors and insurance companies are showing signs of progress in ongoing negotiations over a settlement to compensate abuse survivors that is expected to cost the church and its insurers at least $100 million.

In recent weeks, a mediator in the case has involved the church’s insurance companies in discussions about whether they will be willing to pay a part of the settlement, court documents show.

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