A state grand jury has charged Lawrence Hecker, a 91-year-old disgraced priest, with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 1975. This extraordinary prosecution could potentially shed new light on what Roman Catholic Church leaders knew about a child sex abuse crisis that persisted for decades. Hecker, who has been at the center of state and federal investigations of clergy sex abuse, faces felony counts of rape, kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature, and theft.
The indictment comes after the Archdiocese of New Orleans publicly identified Hecker as a suspected predator in 2018. Hecker is accused of choking the teen unconscious under the guise of performing a wrestling move and sexually assaulting him. He declined to comment on the charges, and his attorney, Eugene Redmann, has not responded to requests for comment.
The case is significant as it is part of a larger legal battle over secret church records that were shielded by a confidentiality order after the archdiocese sought bankruptcy protection in 2020. These records are said to contain years of abuse claims, interviews with accused clergy, and evidence of church leaders transferring problem priests without reporting their crimes to law enforcement.
The alleged victim’s attorneys hailed the indictment as a victory for all victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse. They believe Hecker should spend the rest of his life in prison. New claims against Hecker have surfaced as recently as this year, with one alleged victim claiming he was forced to strip naked and fondled by Hecker in 1983.
Hecker’s case presents legal and evidentiary challenges for prosecutors due to its age, as well as the political sensitivity of prosecuting a longtime clergyman in heavily Catholic New Orleans. However, previous prosecutions of predator priests in Louisiana have shown that criminal consequences are possible.
The ongoing investigation into Hecker and other accused priests has drawn the attention of the FBI and federal prosecutors, who are considering federal charges against priests involved in interstate child molestation. The church files on Hecker reportedly include a written confession and other documents suggesting that the last four archbishops of New Orleans had reason to believe he was a child molester.
The current archbishop, Gregory Aymond, has faced calls to step down but has refused to do so. He did not respond to a request for comment. Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams expressed his belief that Hecker should have been prosecuted a long time ago and acknowledged the vigorous fight in the courts and behind the scenes.