NEW ORLEANS ( Associated Press) — The FBI has launched a comprehensive investigation into sexual abuse at the Roman Catholic Church in New Orleans decades ago, a rare federal effort in such cases, especially looking at whether priests can use the state’s law to molest children. The lines would move, the officer and others familiar with the investigation told the Associated Press.
More than a dozen alleged abuse victims have been interviewed this year as part of the investigation, which is exploring, among other allegations, whether hunter-gatherer priests can be prosecuted under the Mann Act, which has been around for more than a century. There is an older, anti-sex trafficking law that prohibits anyone from carrying them. State lines for illicit sex.
Some cases in New Orleans under review allege abuse by pastors during visits to Mississippi camps or amusement parks in Texas and Florida. And while some claims are decades old, there is no statute of limitations specifically in violations of the Mann Act.
“It’s been a long road and it’s just the fact that someone believes that the world means to us,” said a former altar boy, who said his assailant took him on trips to Colorado and Florida. took over and abused her in the early 1970s. Was in fifth grade. The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
The FBI declined to comment, as did the Louisiana State Police, which is assisting with the investigation. The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined to discuss the federal investigation.
“I would prefer not to escalate this conversation,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond told the Associated Press.
The investigation could deepen legal trouble for the archdiocese as it reels from bankruptcy brought on by a flood of sexual abuse lawsuits and allegations that church leaders turned a blind eye to generations of predatory priests.
Federal investigators are now looking into whether to seek access to thousands of secret church documents produced by the lawsuits and shielded by a comprehensive confidentiality order in bankruptcy, according to people familiar with the investigation who were not authorized to discuss it. and spoke to Associated Press. Condition of anonymity. Those records are said to contain years of abuse claims, interviews with accused pastors, and a pattern of church leaders transferring problem priests without reporting their crimes to law enforcement.
“It’s really a big deal, and it should be a joy for victims,” said Marcy Hamilton, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and chief executive officer of Child USA, a think tank focused on preventing child abuse. “The FBI has rarely been involved in clergy sexual abuse scandals. They have dragged their feet across the country in relation to the Catholic Church.”
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The U.S. Department of Justice has struggled to find a federal nexus to prosecute clergy’s misdemeanor, beating dead ends as explosives in cases, as outlined in a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, in which church leaders have been accused of a murder. The systematic cover-up was disclosed. Federal prosecutors produced church records in Buffalo, New York that same year in an investigation that was similarly quiet.
Former US Attorney in New Orleans Peter G. “The issue has always been determining what a federal crime is,” Strasser said, after the archdiocese published a list of 57 “credibly accused” clergy, a roster that declined to charge in 2018. Associated Press analysis found that fewer than 20 names were counted.
Strasser said he believed that “naively” a federal case might only be possible to face many obstacles, including the complexities of “putting the church on trial” for charges such as conspiracy.
But federal prosecutors in recent years have employed the more narrowly focused Mann Act to serve sentences in a variety of misdemeanor counts, including against R&B star R. Kelly of his fame for sexually abusing girls. Ghislaine Maxwell is enlisted to help sexually abuse financier Jeffrey Epstein. teenage girls. In 2013, a federal judge in Indiana sentenced a Baptist pastor to 12 years in prison for taking a 16-year-old girl across state lines for sex.
Among the priests under federal investigation in New Orleans is Lawrence Hecker, a 90-year-old man who was fired from the ministry in 2002, alleging he abused “countless children.” Hecker is accused of abusing children on trips out of state decades ago, and other claims against him have ranged from love to rape.
Richard Trahunt, attorney for Hecker’s alleged victims, wrote in a court filing that hundreds of records currently under confidentiality order “will reveal in no uncertain terms that the last four Archbishops of New Orleans knew Lawrence Hecker was a serial child predator.” “
“Hecker is still very much alive, alive, lonely and a danger to young boys until he takes his last breath,” Trahunt wrote.
Asked by telephone this week if he had ever abused children, Hecker said, “I have to get off the phone.”
Recent allegations are also attracting federal attention, including the case of Patrick Watigny, a priest charged last year by state prosecutors after he admitted to molesting a teenager in 2013. His lawyer declined to comment.
Votigny was fired from the ministry in 2020 amid a disciplinary investigation into inappropriate text messages sent to a student. The case shook the Catholic community as church leaders often described the pastor’s misbehavior as a sin.
“It was happening when the church was saying, ‘It’s not happening anymore,'” said Bill Arata, an attorney who has participated in three FBI interviews.
“These victims can stay at home and do nothing,” he said, “but they are not that kind of people.”
Abuse of clergy is particularly rampant in Louisiana, a heavily Catholic state that endured some of the scandals of the early 1980s. Last year, it joined two dozen states that have enacted “lookback windows” aimed at allowing unresolved claims of child sexual abuse, no matter how old, to be brought to civil court.
But with a few exceptions, most notably a former deacon charged with rape, the accused clergy have escaped criminal consequences. Even at the local level, matters have been hampered by the statutes of delimitation and the political sensitivity of prosecuting the Church.
The archdiocese’s 2020 bankruptcy case has also sparked a separate court battle over a cache of confidential emails describing the behind-the-scenes public relations work that the NFL’s New Orleans Saints officials did in 2018 and 2019. Archdiocese in order to prevent the decline from the abuse of the clergy. scams
While the saints maintain that they merely aided in sending the message, lawyers for those suing the church allege in court records that the saintly officials became involved in the church’s “pattern and practice of concealing their crimes”. This includes taking an active role in helping radicals shape the list of credibly accused clergy, argue the lawyers.
Lawyers for those suing the church have attacked the bankruptcy bid as a covert attempt to keep church records secret – and denied victims a public reckoning.
“Those victims were on the road to truth,” Soren Gisleson, an attorney who represents several victims, wrote in a court filing. “The rape of children is a thief who keeps on stealing.”