National News

Retired New Orleans Priest Indicted by Grand Jury, Arrested for Sexual Abuse

District Attorney Jason Williams of Orleans Parish, La., is pictured in a Jan. 5, 2022, photo. Williams announced Sept. 7, 2023, that a Louisiana grand jury indicted 91-year-old Msgr. Hecker, a retired priest of the New Orleans Archdiocese, for aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature and theft. The priest surrendered to the New Orleans Police Department Sept. 8 and was transported to the Orleans Parish Justice Center for booking and was to be held until he could make bail. (Photo: OSV News/Kathleen Flynn, Reuters)

By Gina Christian

(OSV News) — A retired New Orleans priest who walked back a recent public admission of sexual abuse has been arrested and charged for offenses dating from 1975-1976.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams announced Sept. 7 in New Orleans that a Louisiana grand jury recommended charges against 91-year-old Msgr. Lawrence Hecker for aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature and theft.

According to New Orleans Police Department reports, Msgr. Hecker raped and kidnapped a victim, who was not named, between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 1976.

Williams told local media at a Sept. 7 news conference following the grand jury’s indictment that his office plans to expedite a trial and conviction before the retired priest dies.

“We’re going to use every single word that has ever been uttered by Mr. Hecker against him,” said Wiliams. “I’m going to make sure we get this man behind bars.”

Attorney Richard Trahant, who represents the victim, told local media Sept. 7 his client was grateful that “someone with authority finally listened.”

Msgr. Hecker surrendered to the New Orleans Police Department Sept. 8 and was transported to the Orleans Parish Justice Center for booking. According to media reports, he will be held until he can make bail. The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office listed Msgr. Hecker as still in custody as of Sept. 11.

Msgr. Hecker’s attorney, Eugene P. Redmann, did not immediately respond to OSV News’ request for comment by Sept. 11.

“We are ready for the fight to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in this case, and send a far-reaching missive that anyone conspiring to hurt our children and hide behind the veil of an institution will be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Williams said in a Sept. 8 statement.

In a statement provided to OSV News, the Archdiocese of New Orleans said 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 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.

In a 1999 statement made to the archdiocese, Msgr. Hecker himself had acknowledged having committed “overtly sexual acts” with at least three underage boys in the late 1960s and 1970s. He also confessed to having close relationships with four other boys into the 1980s.

The admission was an about-face from interviews over the years in which Msgr. Hecker had denied or avoided saying that he had inappropriately touched children.

Reports of his Msgr. Hecker’s behavior over the years ultimately led to him being sent by the archdiocese in 1999 to an out-of-state psychiatric treatment facility, where he was diagnosed as a pedophile, according to a personnel file obtained by The Guardian, a newspaper based in the United Kingdom.

The newspaper, which recently published an extensive investigation of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, teamed up with New Orleans television channel WWL-TV for a surprise joint interview with Msgr. Hecker at his apartment.

Both in the 1999 statement and in the WWL-Guardian interview, the priest — who appeared slightly disheveled as he spoke at the gate of his residence — chalked his abuse up to widespread sexually permissive behavior of the time. The journalists noted in the final version of the video, which was posted to WWL’s YouTube channel Aug. 22, that Louisiana’s age of consent in the 1960s and 1970s was 17, as it remains today.

During a brief Aug. 24 phone call with OSV News, Msgr. Hecker denied his admission of abuse.

“Things get twisted around,” he said before hanging up. Two phone messages left with Msgr. Hecker by OSV News Sept. 9 and 10 were not immediately returned.

Despite his 1999 statement to the archdiocese and clinical diagnosis, Msgr. Hecker still undertook some two additional years of ministry, having been assigned in 2000 to a parish with an elementary school. He quietly retired in 2002 and was added to the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ list of credibly abused priests in 2018.

From 2010 to about 2020, the archdiocese paid at least $332,500 out-of-court settlements for five complaints of sexual abuse by Msgr. Hecker, according to The Guardian.