Archdiocese of New Orleans suspected of child sex trafficking, warrant shows

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans The St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the United States, on April 9, 2020, in New Orleans. | Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A criminal investigation into the Archdiocese of New Orleans is based on a suspicion that it may be linked to child sex trafficking, according to allegations presented in a search warrant granted to Louisiana State Police.

The affidavit requesting the search warrant, first obtained by the New Orleans-based WWL Radio, alleges that multiple sex abuse victims provided statements that claim they were transported to other parishes and outside of Louisiana, where they were sexually abused. It further alleges a scheme within the archdiocese in which abused children were instructed to provide “gifts” to certain priests, which were meant to signal that the children were targets for sexual abuse.

According to the allegations in the affidavit, multiple victims reported that they were brought to the New Orleans Seminary, where they were instructed to “swim naked in the pool and would be sexually assaulted or abused.” It also alleges that investigators found that this was “a common occurrence” and that other members of the archdiocese were present. 

“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,” investigator Scott Rodrigue wrote in the affidavit. 

Judge Juana Lombard granted police the search warrant last week, but the allegations in the warrant were not made public until Tuesday, April 30. It allows police to search personnel files, financial records, communications, and other documents related to allegations of sexual abuse.

The warrant acknowledges that the police have probable cause to suspect felony violations of the law that prohibits the “trafficking of children for a sexual purpose.”

Although the allegations contained in the warrant do not indicate when the alleged trafficking occurred, the information that led to a suspicion of sex trafficking was obtained by police during an earlier investigation into a retired priest named Lawrence Hecker, who is accused of raping an underage teenage boy in the 1970s. Hecker was indicted for the alleged crime but has not yet been tried.

The affidavit alleges that documents obtained during the Hecker investigation show that “previous archbishops … not only knew of the [widespread] sexual abuse and failed to report all the claims to law enforcement, but [also] spent archdiocese funding to support the accused.”

One document cited in the affidavit states that one specific archbishop “was aware of rampant sexual abuse throughout the archdiocese,” but the affidavit leaves out the archbishop’s name. 

The affidavit alleges, without stating the exact time frame, that the archdiocese “disregarded” or “covered up” claims of widespread sexual abuse. It alleges that in many cases, abuse claims “were not reported to law enforcement.” In some instances, the archdiocese provided “monetary payments” to victims or their families “to dismiss the allegations,” according to the affidavit.

Investigators conducted “a large number of interviews” of individuals who allege widespread sexual abuse against children in the archdiocese, according to the affidavit. Interviews are still being conducted. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 amid financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the costs of litigation and settlements related to alleged sexual abuse.

CNA reached out to the archdiocese for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

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