91-year-old ex-priest indicted in New Orleans for alleged rape of boy in 1970s

indictment Credit: Jack_the_sparow/Shutterstock

A retired 91-year-old New Orleans priest who was removed from ministry in 2018 was indicted Thursday afternoon on felony charges related to allegations that he raped an underage teenage boy in the 1970s.

Lawrence Hecker was indicted on charges of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, an aggravated crime against nature, and theft by an Orleans Parish Special Grand Jury. The sex abuse crimes are alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 1976, according to the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office.

“The physical, emotional, and mental harm from sexual abuse lasts a lifetime,” District Attorney Jason Williams said in a statement.

“Many survivors have felt hopeless and irreparably harmed by the acts Lawrence Hecker committed against them,” Williams continued. “The innocence and youth stolen from multiple children, who revered and respected Hecker as a protector, cannot be regained. The traumatic effects of those events from years ago are no doubt reawakened by this process and the dozens of media reports that led up to this point.”

Williams added that the district attorney’s office hopes “to achieve truth and accountability” that can “assist in a restoration of those lives and a sense of closure.”

The Archdiocese of New Orleans told CNA that Hecker was included on the list of clergy removed from ministry for abuse of a minor in 2018. On May 1, 2020, the archdiocese announced plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after being named as a defendant in a number of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits.

The Guardian reported in June that in 1999, Hecker admitted to sexual misconduct with seven teenage boys between 1966 and 1979 but was allowed to remain in ministry until his retirement in March 2002. The report noted that he was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility that diagnosed him with pedophilia after his confession but was not removed from ministry. 

“I had thought I had buried this part of my life and would only think about it to remind myself not to have anything like this happen again,” Hecker’s 1999 confession read in part, according to The Guardian. “I have made it a point not to be alone with anyone under 18, and if possible not to be alone with anyone — and certainly not to hold anyone, except for a ‘holy hug.’”

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests applauded the district attorney’s office for its efforts to indict Hecker. The statement said that “children are always safer when their abusers are behind bars” and criticized the leadership of the Archdiocese of New Orleans during Hecker’s time as a priest.

“We also hope that all of the survivors of Father Hecker’s crimes feel a sense of justice and relief that law enforcement is finally taking action,” the statement read. “Three New Orleans archbishops ([Philip] Hannan, [Francis] Schulte, and [Alfred] Hughes) shielded this clergyman from the authorities. We say shame on them!”

An archdiocesan statement stated that the archdiocese reported Hecker to law enforcement several times since 2002.

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans reported Lawrence Hecker to law enforcement authorities in different jurisdictions multiple times since 2002,” the statement read. “We have fully cooperated and will continue to cooperate with any law enforcement investigation into Lawrence Hecker.”

The former priest was ordained in 1958 and was assigned to 13 parishes in Louisiana before he retired in 2002. Out of the 13 parishes, 11 were under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Hecker turned himself in to police on Friday and was booked on the charges.

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