Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans “lost” abuse records; SNAP wonders what it will take to make the faithful demand accountability
For Immediate Release: September 28, 2023
On Tuesday, a news article provided the public with additional information about “lost” reports of child sexual abuse made to the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by priests, cannot help but wonder how many other complaints are “missing,” and if any of those accused are still in ministry?
The Archdiocese claims that it has no records of reports of child sexual abuse against Deacon Virgil Maxey “VM” Wheeler III, from 2002. According to the article, the mother of Mac McCall told Archbishop Philip Hannan that year that Wheeler had tried to get Mac’s older brother into bed with him during a ski trip to Utah. Knowing that Wheeler wanted to become a Deacon, she also reported to the head of the Archdiocese’s diaconate program at the time, Jim Swiler.
Wheeler, who was ordained in 2018 and died earlier this year, was charged with the rape of Mac and arrested in March of 2021. The Deacon pleaded guilty in December of the following year to a lesser crime, and was sentenced to probation and sex offender registration.
It stretches credulity to believe that the Archdiocese has no record of either the report to Archbishop Hannan or Swiler. Because of this, Wheeler was later allowed to enter the diaconate program and was ordained by the current Archbishop, Gregory Aymond. We also note that it took two reports to Archbishop Aymond about Wheeler, one in 2018 and the second in 2020, for this dangerous man to finally be removed from ministry.
Similarly, the Archdiocese claims that the first report about Fr. Lawrence Hecker, one of the more prolific perpetrators of child sexual abuse in the history of New Orleans, was made in 1999. How are we supposed to believe this, when Fr. Hecker himself acknowledges that he was called on the carpet by Archbishop Hannan in 1988 about the priest’s abuse of an underage boy? Is that record also “missing?”
Even then, Fr. Hecker was only removed from ministry in 2002, along with many others across the country, following the Boston Globe’s excellent exposé on abuse in the local Archdiocese. Moreover, Archbishop Aymond did not publicly disclose the reason behind the priest’s "retirement" until 16 years later.
Finally, records produced in the pending Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy revealed that Church officials received multiple reports of sexual abuse or misconduct by clergymen, failed to record them, and then let the accused return to ministry.
Many victims of this criminal behavior have been lost to suicide or to substance abuse. We wonder how much longer the faithful are going to sacrifice their children to a religious organization that is more bent on preserving its reputation rather than young lives? It is long past time for parishioners to ask hard questions, including why the Archdiocese does not have the reports required by Church Law, and why boys and girls continue to be placed in harm’s way even after the receipt of complaints. Sadly, even the reports by prominent citizens of New Orleans, like Mac’s parents, appear to have been ignored.
It is entirely due to the witness of brave survivors like Mac that any pressure has been brought to bear on the Archdiocese. We have nothing but respect for these brave survivors, and we hope that the laity will be similarly inspired by them. The lives of their children and grandchildren may well depend on it.
CONTACT: Mark Vath, SNAP Louisiana ([email protected], 850-218-6669), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Director ([email protected], 925-708-6175), Mike McDonnell, SNAP Interim Executive Director ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board of Directors President ([email protected], 814- 341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 35 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)