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The Archdiocese of New Orleans has made headlines in recent days, as Louisiana police officers executed a sweeping search warrant related to a child sex trafficking investigation.

The criminal investigation involves the archdiocese’s handling of sexual abuse allegations, reaching back years.

The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, in New Orleans. Credit: Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0.


What’s going on in the archdiocese? And what happens next? Here’s what we know:

What is included in the search warrant?

The search warrant, signed last week, instructs the archdiocese to provide all sexual abuse allegations it has received, along with relevant archdiocesan correspondence, documentation, and priest assignment records.

This includes correspondence between archdiocesan leaders and the Vatican, as well as lists of credibly accused clergy, personnel files, and financial records.

What is the reason for the warrant?

An affidavit in support of the warrant cites a years-long FBI investigation into sexual abuse allegations in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

During the course of this investigation, it says, numerous alleged victims said archdiocesan officials – including previous archbishops - had been aware of their abuse claims, but had failed to investigate them or report them to law enforcement.

“In some cases, monetary payments were made to victims and/or their families by the Archdiocese to dismiss the allegations,” the affidavit says.

In other cases, the archdiocese is accused of intentionally moving priests around to hide their misconduct.

The affidavit specifically gives the example of Fr. Lawrence Hecker, who was indicted last year on charges of kidnapping and rape.

After a victim initially accused Hecker of rape, the priest was sent to a psychiatric facility, where he was diagnosed as a pedophile. However, the archdiocese then reassigned him to another parish, despite being aware of his diagnosis and the claims against him, the document says.

Are these new allegations?

The affidavit specifically cites allegations of clerical abuse “dating back decades.”

It says that Hecker admitted that he had abused a minor in the 1970s.

However, the warrant is wide-reaching, asking for “any and all” abuse complaints and related correspondence, personnel files, financial records, and other documentation, without date restrictions.

Like many U.S. dioceses, New Orleans maintains a list of clergy “credibly accused”  of sexual abuse or misconduct, which is based on the findings and recommendations of its lay-led independent review board. 

The recent warrant covers information about the clergy members named on the “credibly accused” list - which was first released in 2018 - as well as any more recent allegations received by the archdiocese.

In May 2020, six years after first publishing its list of credibly accused clergy, the Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, facing some 30 sexual abuse cases in court. 

In 2020, a federal bankruptcy judge ordered the archdiocese to cease financial support payments to all clergy named on the “credibly accused” list. In 2022, she ordered the archdiocese to stop stipend payments to priests accused of sexual abuse, but not listed on the archdiocesan “credibly accused clergy” roster.

The orders raised both constitutional and canonical questions, with critics noting that priests who face non-credible accusations would be denied financial support. Some affected priests are more than 90 years old.

The archdiocese bankruptcy proceedings are still ongoing.

How would these claims constitute child sex trafficking?

Among the allegations raised in the affidavit is the claim that minors were transported across state lines for the purpose of sexual abuse, giving rise to the sex trafficking claim.

The affidavit states that multiple children were sent to other dioceses with “gifts” to be given to certain priests at their new school or church.

“It was said that the gift was a form or signaling to another priest that the person was a target for sexual abuse,” the document says.

Investigators will review the documents obtained to determine whether further action will be taken.

How has the archdiocese responded to the investigation?

The archdiocese has said it is cooperating with the investigation.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese told The Pillar:

“The Archdiocese of New Orleans has been openly discussing the topic of sex abuse for over 20 years. In keeping with this, we also are committed to working with law enforcement in these endeavors.”

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