‘It wasn’t a big deal’: secret deposition reveals how a child molester priest was shielded by his church

A black and white photo of a priest

Ramon Antonio Vargas in New Orleans and David Hammer of WWL Louisiana

Thu 9 May 2024

Lawrence Hecker pleaded the fifth 117 times as he detailed how the Catholic church protected him for more than two decades after he admitted to molesting children

Longtime New Orleans Catholic priest Lawrence Hecker received a special honor from the Vatican nearly 25 years ago despite having confessed to molesting children. Then, for another two decades, church leaders in the city strategically shielded him from law enforcement and media exposure – while also providing him with financial support ranging from paid limousine rides and therapeutic massages to full retirement benefits, according to his own, previously unreported testimony.

A sworn deposition Hecker gave in private in 2020 shows exactly how high-placed Catholic church officials in New Orleans let him keep his elevated position for years, even after they had been advised to oust him from the clergy and – much later – publicly acknowledged that he was a child predator.

“It wasn’t a big deal in those days,” Hecker said at the deposition about how his archdiocese coddled him despite his acknowledged abuse of children.

The scale of the cover-up shocks the conscience. As Hecker walked into New Orleans’ historic St Louis Cathedral in early January 2000 to receive the honorary, Vatican-bestowed title of monsignor, he had already confessed to molesting children he met through his ministry.

Hecker by then had been flown out of town and driven by limousine to a psychiatric facility, which diagnosed him as an inveterate pedophile. He had been forced to take a months-long sabbatical – which was to begin the week after his promotional ceremony, at a cost to the archdiocese of $6,000. And he had already spoken to the archbishop of New Orleans at the time and his predecessor about the allegations against him.

Hecker admitted that the archbishop who presided over his 2000 promotion – the late Francis Bible Schulte – told him he regretted sending his name to his superiors in Rome to be exalted, shortly before the priest confessed to being a serial child abuser.

“Archbishop Schulte told me – he said – ‘If I had known of this, I would not have sent in for your promotion,’” Hecker testified. “‘I would not have asked for you to be a monsignor.’”

But nothing was done.

To borrow one of Hecker’s favorite words when discussing his past, Schulte and his colleagues “evidently” got over it.

First, they went through with conferring the distinction of monsignor upon Hecker, with approval from the then pope, John Paul II. And then Schulte’s successors as archbishop – Alfred Hughes and the present incumbent, Gregory Aymond – ignored a previously hidden recommendation from an official review board calling on them to laicize Hecker, which would have expelled him from the priesthood.

As a result, Hecker avoided being publicly exposed as a predator for nearly two decades. He was also able to collect tens of thousands of dollars in assistance from the second-oldest US archdiocese before at last facing a meaningful consequence: a grand jury indictment in September of last year that charged him with child rape, kidnapping and other crimes.

According to a bombshell search warrant Louisiana state police troopers served on the church in late April, the investigation which produced those charges has evolved into an inquiry over whether members of the archdiocese – in Hecker’s case and others – operated as a child sex-trafficking ring responsible for “widespread sexual abuse of minors dating back decades” that was “covered up and not reported to law enforcement”.

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