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NEW ORLEANS (ChurchMilitant.com) - A New Orleans man is fighting for victims and justice against a 92-year-old retired priest.
Abuse victim Aaron Hebert claims the now criminally indicted New Orleans priest Fr. Lawrence Hecker molested him in 1968 when he was 13.
Hebert told Church Militant, "One thing I remember about that, I'll never forget Fr. Hecker looking back up at me while he was fondling my genitals."
Father Lawrence Hecker is currently facing criminal prosecution in New Orleans on four charges, including raping a teenage boy. Hebert's alleged abuse occurred while he was in eighth grade at St. Joseph's School in Gretna. Hebert told Church Militant that on one occasion, before the molestation incident, Hecker even came over to his house, at the invitation of his parents.
Hebert proceeded to recount the 1968 event:
In eighth grade, he took several of us boys that were on the athletic team. And he took us in the back of the sacristy of the church in Gretna. And he said, "Boys, I know you're going to be going to high school next year and you're going to be probably playing sports in high school." And he says, "I'm just going to show you what a hernia examination is all about." And he told us to drop our pants and drop our underwear and he proceeded to grope our genitals. And it was under the guise of having a hernia examination.
That was the only time Hebert suffered abuse at the hands of Hecker.
But Hebert didn't become aware of the predator priest's proclivity to abuse until recently. Hebert recalled how, four or five years ago, his friend who was with him at the sacristy event called him and said, "Aaron, I have a case against the archdiocese of New Orleans and against Fr. Hecker. I'm asking you if you would be a witness for me in my trial." Naturally, Hebert agreed, volunteering, "Sure, I was there, buddy. I know what happened. I was right there with you."
Hebert then asked his friend if anything more had happened with Fr. Hecker. According to Herbert, his friend "came out and told me that he was sodomized and had a sexual relationship with Fr. Hecker after that day that he gave us that hernia examination." For Hebert, that admission served as a wake-up call.
The New Orleans native lamented:
When he told me that, I practically dropped the phone and kind of lost it there for a minute. I just couldn't believe what he was telling me. And the feeling that I felt — and I feel to this day — is that I didn't tell a soul about Fr. Hecker. I didn't tell my parents. I didn't tell my teacher. I didn't tell anybody in authority about Fr. Hecker and what he did to us because he's a man of the cloth, and who were we to question a man of the cloth? The guilt that I felt, having read the articles that came out later about Fr. Hecker. He was transferred from parish to parish to parish because the archbishops kept on sweeping it under the rug. And he kept on going from parish to parish and the guilt I felt: If I only would have told somebody, I could probably have saved a lot of children from being abused by this monster, had I only opened up my mouth and told somebody about it.
Hebert would come to learn other men he knew from childhood were also allegedly sexually abused by the retired priest. "There were several of my friends in grade school with me that were altar boys. And later on in life, I found out about them being abused," Hebert revealed. "Father Hecker would take these boys during the summer and go to St. Benedict's ... for a summer altar boy retreat. It was far from being a retreat for these altar boys because Fr. Hecker had his way with them at St. Benedict's."
Hebert's childhood friend, Gretna councilman Jackie Berthelot, was allegedly among Hecker's many victims. In 2021, Berthelot invited Hebert to speak in front of the Legislature in Baton Rouge regarding a lookback window for child sex abuse in Louisiana. Hebert was not able to attend, but Berthelot shared his story of clerical abuse.
Hebert, who already had a lawsuit filed against the archdiocese and Hecker at the time, decided to go public in solidarity with his friend. He told Church Militant,
At that time, my attorneys filed papers for me, under the guise of "John W. Doe." And when Jackie came out of the closet, about a day or two after that, I called my attorneys and said, 'Look, I don't want to be known as J.W. Doe anymore. My name is Aaron Hebert. I have a story. I have a face. I have something to tell. I don't want to hide under an anonymity any longer. I want people to know who I am. Because I can't just let my friend Jackie be by himself telling his story without me putting in my story as well.
After coming forward, Hebert became aware of even more heinous acts committed by the retired cleric. Hebert told Church Militant that sometimes after funerals in Orleans Parish, Hecker would take the altar boys "to the young men's athletic club off of Rampart Street and go swimming naked with the altar boys, and try to mess around with them."
At the insistence of his priest, Hebert wrote to Abp. Gregory Aymond about what he experienced and knew. He later received a phone call from the archbishop. Hebert relayed how the bishop "gave his condolences and everything, but it sounded like he was reading from a script, something like maybe his attorneys told him." Hebert said Abp. Aymond offered him psychological help as well, but Hebert responded he wanted to seek legal advice at that time.
Hebert's legal team built a criminal case against Hecker, which was set to go to trial before the archdiocese of New Orleans filed for bankruptcy. "Two weeks before we were supposed to go to trial, that's when Abp. Aymond pulled out the bankruptcy card. That was his trump card, and he played it," Hebert remarked. "So everything ceased from the criminal investigation and criminal trial. And it became a bankruptcy civil case." The years of cover-up and corruption came to a head for Hebert at that moment. "So from that moment on," recalled Hebert, "that's when I kind of lost all faith in the Catholic religion."
"The archdiocese, they're morally bankrupt, they are not financially bankrupt by no [sic] means," Hebert proclaimed. "It goes back decades, decades that they swept this man under the rug. They kept on hiding this man."
Worst of all to Hebert is the fact the archdiocese has spent tens of millions of dollars in legal fees since filing for bankruptcy in 2020, yet victims have still not received a penny from the Church.
Hebert — a member of Survivors of Childhood Sex Abuse — expressed support for those who have yet to come forward about their past abuse:
Don't feel that you're alone on an island because many, many of us have gone through the same path as you have gone through. And the more you stand in silence, the more people get away with the atrocities that they do to young victims. We're here to support you. Come out, if you need someone to talk to; find an organization within your parish, or where you live at. Contact the SCSA for support. There's a lot of things, but just don't hold it inside. Because the more you hold it inside, these perpetrators of these crimes continue to walk free amongst other children. And think of it as, yes, it happened to you. But if you could only do something to save another child from child abuse, you've done your work.
Hecker admitted to WWL in New Orleans in August that he committed sexual misconduct with multiple minors. That was the first time Hecker admitted publicly to the acts; although The Guardian obtained Hecker's 1999 confession statement made to the archdiocese of New Orleans. Hecker quietly retired in 2002 amid the bombshell sex abuse revelations in the Church coming out of Boston.
The archdiocese of New Orleans recently announced plans to sell off over half a dozen properties to help settle abuse claims, as well as having parishioners possibly footing some of the bills.