For years, victims have spoken out against priests and other members of the clergy who committed sexual abuse against them within the Archdiocese of New Orleans, only to be shut down time and time again. Most recently, their painful truths have been hidden through the Archdiocese bankruptcy filing, which led to a confidentiality order, sealing documents containing dozens of sex abuse lawsuits against the church.
However, at the end of June, the Associated Press released news that could result in another way in which the Archdiocese of New Orleans could be held accountable for years of sex abuse. The FBI is investigating certain sex abuse cases within Roman Catholic churches in New Orleans.
For the investigation, the FBI is relying on the Mann Act, which gives federal jurisdiction to prosecute sex crimes if the victim was taken across state lines for illicit sex. The Mann Act, created in 1910 (although amended several times since), markedly does not have a statute of limitations.
More than a dozen alleged abuse victims have been interviewed by federal investigators so far. The cases involve sex abuse that occurred when clergy members took youth from Louisiana to camps in Mississippi as well as road trips to amusement parks in Texas and Florida.
The Associated Press also reported that the FBI might “seek access” to confidential church documents shielded by the bankruptcy. The documents include years’ worth of abuse claims, interviews with victims and accused priests, and evidence of a pattern involving “…church leaders transferring problem priests without reporting their crimes to law enforcement.’’
One clergy member under investigation is Lawrence Hecker, who was removed from his job 20 years ago after being accused of sexual abuse by several alleged victims. The accusations against the priest, now 90, range from fondling to rape and were committed during out-of-state trips with youth.
The use of the Mann Act has helped prosecutors find success in recent high-profile sex abuse cases. For example, there is the case of Ghislaine Maxwell. She was charged with two counts of violating the Mann Act as she assisted Jeffrey Epstein in sex trafficking young women and involved the testimony of a woman known by the pseudonym, Jane. The woman testified that Epstein first abused her when she was 14 in 1994 and that Maxwell participated in some of their sexual encounters. The Mann Act violation occurred as Jane traveled from her home in Palm Beach to Epstein’s homes in New York and New Mexico to have sexual encounters with him.
The news concerning the FBI’s interest in New Orleans clergy sex abuse is a piece of positive information for victims hoping to push forward on seeing the abusive priests punished in Louisiana.
Louisiana Sex Abuse “Lookback Window”
Another critical step in Louisiana sex abuse survivors seeking justice occurred last year when Louisiana joined about 24 other states and enacted a “lookback window.” The addition of a Louisiana “lookback window” allows civil lawsuits against sex abusers to be brought to court, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. Recently, the Louisiana House and Senate unanimously approved House Bill 402 to resolve some confusion with the original law. The new bill clarifies that no matter how long ago the abuse took place, or the victim’s current age, a victim of childhood sexual abuse in Louisiana should have a chance to sue over their alleged mistreatment until the June 2024 deadline.
Perhaps the FBI’s attention directed at the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the “lookback window” legislation could be the turnaround push to combat Louisiana’s problem with clergy sex abuse once and for all.
If you are a survivor of Louisiana sex abuse and are considering legal action against the abusers, you should contact a Louisiana sex abuse attorney with a history of representing sexual abuse victims. The lawyers at Herman, Herman & Katz have already represented Louisiana clergy abuse victims in lawsuits against the Archdiocese of New Orleans and understand how intimidating it can feel to accuse the powerful Catholic Church of criminal activity. Contact the firm at 844-943-7626 or visit online to schedule a free, confidential consultation.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.