A recent investigation has uncovered the shocking lengths to which the archdiocese of New Orleans went to protect a priest who admitted to numerous crimes of child molestation.
Lawrence Hecker, a Catholic priest in New Orleans, was outed in 2018 as one of about a dozen priests in the New Orleans archdiocese to be “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
Now a new report, based on a trove of recently unsealed church files, details more thoroughly the 15-year period between 1966 and 1979 in which Hecker sexually abused at least seven teenagers.
It also covers his 1999 confession to church leadership, and the cover-up that took place afterward.
What the Report Says
When Hecker confessed to archdiocese leadership in 1999, he reportedly seemed to take little responsibility for his actions.
He allegedly tried to blame his child molestation on the swinging’ 60s, saying it “was a time of great change in the world and in the church, and I succumbed to its zeitgeist,” and he blamed the boys for wearing “short gym shorts” in his presence.
Hecker described “overtly sexual acts” between himself and teenagers in his care, including mutual masturbation, bed sharing, and genital fondling. He’d also later be accused of sexual contact between himself and an adult man with a mental disability.
Notably, his confession wasn’t from a guilty conscience or desire to come clean; he only came forward after one of his victims went to the archdiocese with these serious allegations.
It seems unlikely the news was a surprise to church officials. On two other occasions, first in 1988 and later in 1996, victims reportedly approached the archdiocese with accusations against Hecker. Nothing was done.
How the Archdiocese Responded
So, what happened after the confession?
The archdiocese of New Orleans didn’t report the crimes to the police... at least not initially. They first sent Heck to a psychiatric facility, where he was officially diagnosed with pedophilia. Their recommendation? Keep him away from children and other vulnerable people.
The archdiocese put Hecker on leave, but after a few months he was invited back to work.
He continued serving in the archdiocese until he quietly retired in 2002 following the earth-shattering investigation by the Boston Globe exposed scores of abuse victims and a massive cover-up at the archdiocese of Boston.
It was only then that the archdiocese reported Hecker to the police, but they failed to mention his actual confession, and they only brought up one victim (when they allegedly knew of at least seven).
Fall From Grace
It wasn’t until 2018 that the archdiocese publicly acknowledged Hecker as an abuser, nearly 20 years after his initial confession.
Until 2020, they’d been paying him retirement benefits as well, and only cut those off because the judge overseeing their recent bankruptcy proceedings ordered that the church stop paying retirement benefits to clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse.
Following the pattern of quiet cover-ups detailed in the Academy Award-winning film Spotlight, the archdiocese settled out of court with some accusers for relatively small sums in the tens of thousands of dollars. The legal agreements specifically dictated that the church accept no fault or liability, or even admit the allegations are truthful.
Law enforcement never arrested the 91-year-old Hecker, who to this day retains his “monsignor” honorific.
It's possible that may change now; Orleans parish DA Jason Williams says that the archdiocese recently turned over numerous documents relating to Hecker. Only time will tell if he’ll be legally held accountable.
When reached for comment over the phone, Lawrence Hecker told reporters: “I am running behind on time and have to get to an appointment.” He then hung up.
The shocking revelations followed news that another Catholic priest – this one in Michigan – has been sentenced to just one year in prison for sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy.
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