The Connection between Archbishop Gregory Aymond and St. John Vianney Prep
I am a proud graduate of St. John Prep’s final graduating class of 1985. My high school alma mater closed, we were told, because not enough boys pursued higher education after graduation to become priests. At least that is what then-Archbishop Phillip Hannan stated to us and the public. But was that the only reason? Today, Archbishop Aymond named deceased Rev. Robert Cooper as the 73rd cleric to the ever growing list of credibly accused clergymen. Fr. Luis Fernandez and Fr. Joseph deWater were suspended from ministry pending further investigation. Cooper and Fernandez served with Aymond at St. John Prep in the mid-1970’s.
In addition to the aforementioned priests whom Aymond worked with at St. John Prep, the following also credibly accused sexual predators were employed during Aymond’s tenure:
St. John Prep educated New Orleans area Catholic boys who were open to the priesthood. It had a spirit of community that we all prided. Most of us have maintained close friendships. “Fr. Greg” Aymond began his career there as a teacher and then rector. We felt a tremendous closeness to him, and believed that he was one of us. As he ascended the hierarchy to eventually become the fourteenth Archbishop of New Orleans, the St. John Prep community continued to feel Charger pride that Fr. Greg made it.
Forty years later, one has to ask, “How did seven sexual predators become employed at this school? Who hired them? Who protected them?” The simple answer to all of these questions lies with former Archbishop Phillip Hannan. St. John Prep was his baby. It was his decision to assign and transfer priests throughout the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The answer to last question also needs to be answered by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
It was his decision to release the paltry and incomplete list of 57 credibly accused priests and deacons Nov. 2, 2018. We know that an independent review board pored over 2,500 personnel records to determine whom to add to this list. But the buck stopped with Aymond. He knew that Cooper was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior 45 years ago. St. John Prep students confided in him, and he said that he would take care of the situation. He knew about Fernandez 13 years ago. Both priests were transferred to new locations. That was how bishops were programmed and ordered to discipline accusations of sexual abuse by priests.
What would the Archbishop gain from suppressing names of his contemporaries? Was it because he worked closely with them and the five others who landed on the original list? Would it smear his reputation? Do and did these men know something about him? Who else in the community helped him to conceal the almost 20 additional priests that have been added to the original list? The Archdiocese of New Orleans cannot be trusted. By filing for Federal bankruptcy protection, all civil discovery was sealed in dozens of cases in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. SNAP New Orleans sent a letter to the Vatican October 2 to investigate the failed leadership of the Archbishop and to review the secret archives of abusive priests, deacons, and nuns. We hope that the Holy Father heard us and takes action. We are still waiting.
The best justice that the New Orleans faithful can hope for is a secular law enforcement investigation. We know that priests and deacons took boys across Louisiana’s borders to sexually abuse them. There is no statute of limitations for those crimes. The New Orleans FBI field office has the right to investigate not only the Archdiocese of New Orleans but all of the dioceses across the state: Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Houma-Thibodaux, Alexandria, and Shreveport. There are witnesses ready and willing to speak on the record.
Our question was speculative with regard to the connection between seven abusive priests at St. John Prep and Archbishop Aymond. How many more priest buddies has the Archbishop protected? The actions and alleged coverup by Aymond and his three predecessors demand further investigation. Survivors of clergy sexual abuse deserve the truth. Without accountability and thorough excavation of man-made secrets, the scourge and scars of abuse will prove to be a cancer that kills the Church.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)