Former New Orleans priest indicted, booked on charges of rape, kidnapping, theft

Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 3:31 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 8, 2023 at 1:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Former New Orleans priest Lawrence Hecker has been indicted by an Orleans Parish Grand Jury on charges that include aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crimes against nature, and theft, announced District Attorney Jason Williams.

Hecker, 91, turned himself in to authorities on Friday, Sept. 8.

Williams said this is a significant first step in putting an accused predator away. The DA’s office said Hecker was hidden in plain sight.

“Anyone conspiring to cover up hurting children and hiding behind a veil of an institution will be found and found out and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Jason Williams, Orleans Parish, District Attorney.

The indictment follows disturbing revelations that Hecker had previously confessed to molesting multiple teenagers dating as far back as 1966, as reported by documents obtained by The Guardian in June. The documents shed light on a deeply troubling history of abuse and alleged cover-ups within the church.

See also: New Orleans priest confessed to molesting multiple teenagers and was protected by the archdiocese, unsealed documents show

According to the documents, four former archbishops, including Phillip Hannan, were aware of Hecker’s sexual abuse of young boys. Hecker’s confessions detailed his misconduct or abuse of seven teenagers between 1966 and 1979. These incidents involved “overtly sexual acts,” with one shocking incident occurring during an overnight trip to a Texas theme park.

“Historically these matters have gone uninvestigated or reached multiple dead ends due to the cone of silence and protection too often afforded to those who were wrongly placed in positions of trust and confidence,” Williams said.

Hecker oversaw the archdiocese’s scouting program from 1966 to 1972, a position that provided him access to numerous teenagers. Hecker admitted to his superiors in 1999 that he had either sexually molested or shared a bed with multiple teenagers he had met during his tenure as a priest.

In his confession, Hecker attributed his actions to “a time of great change in the world and in the church” and stated, “I succumbed to its zeitgeist.”

Williams said those who suffered at the hands of Hecker are a brave group of survivors, desperate to be heard, and who refused to watch their trauma be buried under the shroud of secrecy.

“It is really hard for a child or any survivor of sexual assault to share it with anyone. The fact that a child went to an adult, told them what happened, and nothing happened is a sin and a shame,” said Williams. “The innocence and youth stolen from multiple children who revered and respected Hecker as a protector cannot be regained.”

Williams said his office fought hard to obtain previously sealed testimony related to serious, credible reports of serial child sexual abuse. These allegations date back around 60 years.

Mike McDonnell with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said church officials tried for years to save face.

“Really what they ultimately have been doing is anesthetizing the faithful who attend Mass each Sunday, and really hiding these grave secrets that so many victims and so many survivors have harbored the pain for decades and held the liability themselves,” said Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director.

McDonnell said this indictment should have come a long time ago.

“This really demonstrates how many layers of cover up and complicit behavior there was with church officials that dates back decades,” said McDonnell. “[H]ad the church officials taken care of the wounded sheep instead of the abusive shepherds, so many years in the lives of victims could have been totally different. But today is validation, not only for the victims, but it also demonstrates that the diocese just simply cannot be trusted.”

The Archdiocese, in a statement, said they reported Hecker to authorities multiple times since 2002.

“We have fully cooperated and will continue to cooperate with any law enforcement investigation into Lawrence Hecker,” the statement said.

Hecker continued working for the church until his retirement in 2002 and received retirement benefits until 2020.

“We are going to expedite this prosecution because I don’t want him to die before we get a chance to prosecute him,” Williams said.

McDonnell said Thursday is a monumental moment and believes methods that investigators and prosecutors used in this particular case will be applied to future cases.

“We have seen statistics that those types of predilections truly don’t end until that perpetrator dies. There is no cure, there is no diagnosis, there is no treatment. So, they [the victims] have not only done society, a great deal of justice here protecting society and protecting children, but they have advanced their level of validation as far as seeing the charges, and what a tremendous day it is for them,” McDonnell said.

Williams said other attorneys will be pursuing civil cases related to Hecker.

Fox 8 buzzed Hecker’s apartment several times Thursday to speak with him about the indictment but he didn’t respond.

We did not get a direct answer from Williams on whether Hecker would be picked up by police or given the opportunity to surrender.

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