In 2002, priest Lawrence Hecker quietly retired from his position within the Catholic Church. His retirement came three years after he gave a statement to church leaders confessing he committed “overtly sexual acts” against several boys decades earlier. Now, the disgraced Louisiana priest is charged…
Louisiana Clergy Abuse
A church is designed to be a place of sanctuary – a family for those who have none, a shelter in the storm, somewhere to find peace.
Unfortunately, it has become the exact opposite for thousands of victims of sexual abuse by clergy members.
Southern Baptist Convention Sex Abuse
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is the most recent religious organization to face allegations of sex abuse. A recent independent report discovered that Southern Baptist leadership mishandled sex abuse claims and resisted reform for decades.
During the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual conference in June 2021, SBC approved a third-party audit of sexual abuse allegations. In May 2022, Guidepost Solutions, LLC, the independent firm contracted by the SBC executive committee, released its findings. The report provided disturbing details that top church leaders ignored sexual abuse claims and actively intimidated sex abuse survivors and their families. The report also found that the Southern Baptist Convention chose to protect itself from liability rather than addressing years of sex abuse by Southern Baptist Convention pastors, ministers, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, deacons and church volunteers.
The report also revealed a secret database with hundreds of pastors and other SBC-affiliated personnel accused of sexual abuse. The list has since been released and includes more than 700 ministers and church workers credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Guidepost Solutions also created a list of recommendations to use moving forward to solve the Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse crisis, which would ultimately create safe spaces for children “…and all members of the convention.”
The recommendations include:
- Creating and maintaining an “Offender Information System” database to alert communities to known offenders.
- Establishing an independent commission and, later, a permanent administrative entity to oversee comprehensive reforms.
- Providing a “Resource Toolbox” that includes protocols, training, education and practical information.
- Restricting the use of nondisclosure agreements and civil settlements that require confidentiality.
- Acknowledging those affected through a sincere apology and tangible gesture, accompanied by dedicated survivor advocacy support and a compensation fund.
Sex abuse survivors don’t need to wait and see how the Southern Baptist Convention decides to move forward with handling 20 years of sex abuse. For those who have experienced sex abuse by someone affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, consulting a lawyer with experience handling clergy abuse cases is essential. Being sexually abused by a trusted person in a position of power can cause years of physical, mental and emotional issues. Survivors of clergy sex abuse deserve to see justice served and to hold their abusers and organizations like the Southern Baptist Convention accountable. The Louisiana-based attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz have worked tirelessly to help clergy abuse survivors pursue claims against organizations that covered it up, silenced and intimidated victims, or failed to investigate reports.
History of Catholic Church Sex Abuse
The first real evidence of abuse by clergy members in the U.S. swept the Roman Catholic church in the early 2000s. A national charter, called the Dallas Charter, was created by American bishops as a place for abuse reporting and prevention. Some members advocated for each of the accused to be publicly called out and permanently banned from the church.
But mostly, what happened was priests were simply defrocked – or stripped of their religious status – and allowed to return to being regular citizens. Thousands of them went on to live and work in everyday society, in jobs that allowed them to be alone with children or even counsel children who had been abused by others, and homes that had no restrictions from schools or playgrounds. Some even became foster parents or found work in different churches.
A stunning 2019 Associated Press investigation found that nearly 1,700 clergy members who had been accused of sexual abuse faced no real roadblocks into going right back into positions of trust.
It wasn’t until a grand jury report released by Pennsylvania in 2018, which named more than 300 priests in that state who had been accused of abusing more than 1,000 children over seven decades, that more and more dioceses began coming forward with lists of the accused.
Bishops covered up the abuse, so criminal charges were not filed as they would be in a typical child sex offender case. The lists were mostly names without any helpful information. They don’t list where they’re living now or their current status within the church. Today, there still exists a disturbing lack of documentation and accountability of these crimes.
The Washington Post article about the 2018 report highlighted some particularly horrifying examples, just a small sampling of cases, and thousands more still have not come to light.
One young boy in Pittsburgh was forced to pose for nude photos as Jesus on the cross; another was raped so forcefully and so many times that his spine was permanently injured, leading to a painkiller addiction that led to an overdose death.
But the statute of limitations meant that many of those instances were too old to be criminally prosecuted. Undoubtedly, this is the case for most abuse, as it has been covered up for so long.
How Investigations Into Priest Abuse Began
Although priest abuse has been happening for decades, it wasn’t until the 1990s that any real investigation began. That happened in Ireland. It was revealed that covering up abuse in churches, schools and orphanages was just a widely accepted part of diocese culture and also by local law enforcement.
The scandal was brought to U.S. attention when The Boston Globe reported about it in 2002. Many of Boston’s offending priests avoided prosecution when their bishops paid victims off or simply sent them to counseling.
The most extensive report to date on this scandal was done by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which found that over 52 years, an astonishing 4,300 active Catholic clergymen in the U.S. had been accused of abuse by over 10,000 people. Less than 400 were convicted and/or served prison time.
Priest Abuse In The New Orleans Area
In 2018, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a list of clergy members accused of sexual abuse. That list has since grown to over 75 names. Another 49 Archdiocese clergy have been identified with allegations of sexual assault against them in court or to the Archdiocese itself but have not been placed on its list.
The Archdiocese is the largest known employer of pedophiles in the New Orleans area in the City’s 300-year history.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who allegedly knew what was happening for decades and said nothing, has said he wants the scandal brought to a conclusion. Because many of the clergy on the list passed away years ago and dozens of clergy are still being omitted from the list, justice will be impossible to grant to every victim.
Bankruptcy Filing By Churches
The Catholic church is facing many claims of sexual abuse throughout the U.S. The abuse cases’ financial impact has led many churches to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Churches have turned to bankruptcy because they can settle a large number of lawsuits in a less public manner while also holding on to as many assets as possible. It also protects the church from future claims.
The increase in church bankruptcy filings may also be due to many states having extended or suspended their statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a period of time to file legal action. If the statute of limitations passes, a claim can no longer be filed. So the lifting of the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases means victims can file civil suits no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May 2020. As a result of the filing, clergy sexual abuse victims were given a deadline of March 1, 2021, to seek financial compensation. Given the billions in property ownership and the hundreds of millions of net income it enjoys, the Archdiocese is not in any danger of “closing” or “going out of business.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has used that to show that the scandal has caused them extreme financial distress.
Priest Abuse Cover-Ups Continue
Although courts have started to fight back against attempts to cover up the scandal, the church has continually tried to keep accused priests out of the spotlight and safe from prosecution. For example, in New Orleans, the archdiocese attempted to keep two priests whom the church admitted were “probably” child molesters from testifying. Still, ultimately the bankruptcy judge ordered them to be deposed.
Another accused, Reverend Patrick Wattigny, allegedly admitted to the Archdiocese that he sexually abused a minor back in 2013 after he was found in 2020 to have sent inappropriate text messages to a student.
Priest Carl Davidson allegedly began abusing young boys over 30 years ago but was only sent for psychological treatment. After victim Ricky Monsour came forward to accuse him in 2004, it was revealed that the church paid him $106,000 to stay quiet.
The stories go on and on.
Possible FBI Investigation of New Orleans Clergy Sex Abuse
In June 2022, the Associated Press reported that the FBI is investigating certain New Orleans clergy sex abuse cases. It has been reported that the FBI is interviewing alleged sex abuse victims who were abused by clergy members while traveling from Louisiana to other states, including Mississippi, Texas and Florida. The focus of the FBI investigation is potential violations of the Mann Act. The Mann Act gives federal jurisdiction to prosecute sex crimes if the victim was taken across state lines for illicit sex. The Mann Act does not have a statute of limitations. The investigation could revitalize clergy sex abuse cases that are decades old.
New Orleans Deadline For Sex Abuse Victims To Come Forward
In September of 2020, a federal bankruptcy judge issued a deadline of March 1, 2021, for victims to formally claim abuse against the Archdiocese of New Orleans if they hope to receive financial damages. Claims made will be filed into the bankruptcy confidentially without having the survivor’s name revealed to the public if someone chooses. This deadline may represent the last time a sexual abuse survivor may learn what the Archdiocese knew, when it knew it, and what it did with that information. This knowledge, and the availability of compensation, are important steps toward healing and closure.
Help For Clergy Abuse Victims
First and foremost, don’t try to contact the church or your abuser. See a doctor if you haven’t already. Tell him or her exactly what happened, and seek their recommended treatment. Keep copies of those records and detailed personal notes of your experience. Also, keep anything that may have been used in the abuse, like texts or clothing. While painful, it can make all the difference in a strong case.
Victims of sexual abuse may also want to consider legal action against their abusers. Finding legal representation from a law firm with significant experience in sexual abuse cases is also crucial. You should consult with an attorney who is committed and has a history of representing sexual abuse victims. The firm and its attorneys should make you feel comfortable, confident, and informed every step of the way. Make sure they assure you that your identity and story will be kept 100% confidential until you decide to take legal action or share your experiences on your terms.