A priest is silhouetted in a file photo holding a pastoral staff. OSV News photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

New Orleans Archdiocese investigated for child sex trafficking due to decades-old abuse claims

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • May 3, 2024

The Louisiana State Police and the FBI are investigating whether Archdiocese of New Orleans officials -- including archbishops -- covered up child sex trafficking by clergy over several decades, with some alleged victims reportedly taken out of state to be abused and marked for further exploitation among clergy.

On April 25, the state police executed a comprehensive search warrant on the archdiocese for documents related to a widening investigation into how the archdiocese has handled allegations of abuse.

The warrant -- a copy of which OSV News obtained following the document's April 30 release -- cites potential violation of the felony of "trafficking of children for sexual purposes" as the reason for its sweeping access to archdiocesan records.

Probable cause for the warrant was based on the testimony of law enforcement official Scott Rodrigue, a state police investigator also assigned to the FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force.

A spokesperson with the Archdiocese of New Orleans told OSV News May 1 that the archdiocese "has been openly discussing the topic of sex abuse for over 20 years. In keeping with this, we also are committed to working with law enforcement in these endeavors."

Louisiana State Police Trooper Jacob Pucheu, public information officer, confirmed to OSV News "the Archdiocese is fully cooperating with the investigators and complying with the terms of the search warrant.

"At this time, it is still an ongoing investigation, and we do not have any further information to provide at this time," said Pucheu, who previously told OSV News the April 25 search took place "during a meeting with representatives and counsel for the Archdiocese of New Orleans" and the state police's special victims unit investigators.

Rodrigue stated in the warrant that in February 2022 he "began assisting the FBI after multiple allegations against members of the (Archdiocese) of New Orleans were made."

In June 2022, investigators interviewed a victim of Msgr. Lawrence Hecker, now 92, who was indicted by a grand jury in September 2023 for aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature and theft. According to New Orleans Police Department reports, Msgr. Hecker raped and kidnapped the unnamed victim between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 1976.

The inquiry into Msgr. Hecker, along with "victim interviews and documents previously sealed by a federal bankruptcy judge," led investigators to suspect that "high-ranking members" of the archdiocese knew and ignored or actively covered up "claims of widespread sexual abuse of minors dating back decades," said Rodrigue.

Msgr. Hecker -- despite being clinically diagnosed as a pedophile following an archdiocesan-ordered medical evaluation in 1999 -- was nonetheless "released and reassigned to another parish after his evaluation, with the blessing of the Archbishop, who was aware of his diagnoses," said Rodrigue, adding the monsignor "was not the only member of the archdiocese sent to receive psychiatric testing based on allegations of child sexual abuse."

In response to an OSV News inquiry at the time of Hecker's arrest, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said in a statement that Msgr. Hecker "has not had priestly faculties since 2002," and that he was "included on the list of clergy removed from ministry for abuse of a minor in 2018."

The archdiocese also told OSV News at the time that it had "reported Lawrence Hecker to law enforcement authorities in different jurisdictions multiple times since 2002," and had "fully cooperated and will continue to cooperate with any law enforcement investigation" into the retired priest.

Rodrigue said that some of the documents obtained in the investigation "back the claim that previous Archbishops … not only knew of the sexual abuse and failed to report all claims to law enforcement … but spent Archdiocese funding to support the accused."

In some cases, said Rodrigue, "monetary payments were made to victims and/or their families by the Archdiocese to dismiss the allegations," which went unreported to law enforcement.

The investigator cited a "48-page document" that named one New Orleans archbishop as being "aware of rampant sexual abuse through-out the Archdiocese."

Accused clergy were often "moved to other congregations within the Archdiocese … and, in some cases, reassigned to other (archdioceses) to hide them from their accusers," said Rodrigue.

"Multiple victims" described being taken to "other parishes" and even "outside of Louisiana" to be abused, he said.

A number also "reported being brought to the New Orleans Seminary where they were told to 'skinny dip' or swim naked in the pool and would be sexually assaulted or abused.

"This was discovered to be a common occurrence and it was reported that other members of the Archdiocese were present at the pool at the time," Rodrigue testified.

He also said in the warrant that some victims had been marked for further abuse among clergy.

"It was reported that in some instances, 'gifts' were given to the abuse victims by the accused with instructions to pass on or give the 'gift' to a certain priest at the next school or church," said Rodrigue. "It was said that the 'gift' was a form of signaling to another priest that the person was a target for sexual abuse."

He added, "Based on these findings, as well as the allegations of previous widespread child sexual abuse, it was determined that further investigation into the Archdiocese of New Orleans was necessary."

Among the archdiocesan items subject to the warrant are oral and written communications and data in print, analog and digital media format, including "'for Archbishop eyes only' files, 'secret or sub secreto' files," clergy assignment and transfer documents, psychiatric and treatment records, receipts, and personnel and review board files.

The warrant specifically lists "Canon 489 files," referencing the canonically required secret archive that each diocesan curia is required to maintain, and to which only the bishop has the key.

Specifically, the warrant demands access to "ANY and ALL communications between the Archbishop of New Orleans and ANY department within the Vatican pertaining to child sexual abuse as it relates to complaints or filings of sexual abuse made" regarding the archdiocese, and to "ANY communications between the Archbishop of New Orleans and other Archbishop or Cardinal pertaining to child sexual abuse as (it) relates to accused New Orleans clergy members."

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