Recent Action Happening in New Orleans Archdiocese

| May 2, 2024 | Catholic Church

New Orleans Archdiocese Horowitz Law

In just the past few weeks, there has been a lot of action and news about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups in Louisiana, especially in the New Orleans Archdiocese. 

Here’s what’s happening in the Pelican State:

All of this, keep in mind, has happened over just the past few weeks. But all of this news may be impeded by a development that has not happened yet but offers a scintilla of hope for hundreds of women and men who were sexually assaulted as youngsters by Louisiana clerics.

It is perhaps the most significant pending issue regarding institutional crimes against kids and cover-ups by superiors: The Louisiana Supreme Court has not said yet whether or not they’ll reconsider a recent ruling that hurts kids and survivors. That means there’s still a chance, however slight, that Louisiana’s civil ‘window – passed overwhelmingly by the legislature but overturned once by the state Supreme Court – may be reinstated.

What ties almost all of these developments together? Listen to veteran investigative reporter, author, filmmaker, Vatican observer, and New Orleans native Jason Berry, who noted that “two arms of the legal system (are) in conflict as “a bankruptcy judge puts a tight lid on potentially incriminating documents (while) the state police says ‘We want those documents.”

No matter how that conflict is resolved, a third part of the legal system – the Louisiana Supreme Court – could help those incriminating documents see the light of day if only it would give survivors of heinous child sex crimes the chance that most crime victims have, the chance to take those who hurt them to court.

Comments About the Trouble in Louisianna

At this point, you may feel overwhelmed by all of this news in such a short period. If so, you might focus on – and feel encouraged by – the state police subpoena. One news outlet described it as “extraordinary and went on to say:

• “Louisiana law enforcement officials are digging deeply into allegations that former New Orleans archbishops, the highest-ranking officials in the state’s Catholic hierarchy, knew about child sex abuse by priests and deacons and tried to cover it up.”

• “State Police sought the warrant because they believe there is probable cause the archdiocese was engaging in ‘trafficking of children for sexual purposes. It adds that sealed church records identify one former archbishop who ‘was aware of rampant sexual abuse throughout the Archdiocese.”

• “Investigators uncovered documents that back the claim that previous Archbishops not only knew of the sexual abuse and failed to report all the claims to law enforcement but spent Archdiocese funding to support the accused.”

• “Among the claims: That clergy transported victims across state lines to abuse them; hosted nude pool parties for potential victims at the Notre Dame Seminary; and created a system whereby potential victims would unwittingly transport “gifts from one priest to another, signaling they had been marked for sexual abuse.”

As we mentioned, all of these developments have happened in just the past few weeks. But if we go back further, it’s clear that few Catholic entities in the US had as many opportunities to get a handle on clergy sex crimes and cover-ups as early as the New Orleans archdiocese did:

      • In 1977, Deacon George Brignac was charged with sexual misconduct with juveniles.
      • In 1979, church officials received a report that Sr. Cheryl A. Porte was sexually abusing a 14-year-old, and Porte was reportedly sent to a church home in New Orleans.
      • In 1988 a priest found Fr. Dino Cinel with child porn and tapes he made of himself having sex with teen boys in the rectory. In 1991, criminal charges were filed against Fr. Cinel. (He had admitted to several years of sexual activity with boys.)

So, for decades and decades, it’s undeniably clear that archbishops in Louisiana’s largest city had ample opportunities to take proactive steps to stop and expose clergy sex crimes. Instead, they concealed these crimes. And now, as the saying goes, the chickens are coming home to roost.

Archdiocesan wrongdoing on abuse isn’t confined to the distant past in New Orleans. Just six months ago, Archbishop Gregory Aymond wrongly claimed that he “was among the first bishops in the country and the first in Louisiana to voluntarily release the names and assignment histories of clerics who were removed from ministry because of accusations they abused a minor. Notice that he made two claims: that he’s “among the first to disclose predators’ names in the country and in Louisiana. No sophisticated detective skills are needed to determine whether Aymond is telling the truth here. Both claims are easily and clearly debunked by church records and both secular and religious news sources.

Key Takeaways from Recent Activity in Louisianna

So here are four takeaways from all this activity:

1. Often, when the situation seems bleak when survivors persist, things do begin to change. When Louisiana courts seemed to give church officials favorable treatment in abuse cases repeatedly, many survivors felt very discouraged. However, some of them kept public pressure on the decision-makers, and that pressure seems to be starting to pay off. 

2. They are often more slowly, but eventually, when so many crimes and so much corruption are exposed, law enforcement usually steps in. One could reasonably ask both state and federal law enforcement agents, “What the heck took you so long? Priests preying on kids and bishops ignoring, hiding, or enabling offenses have been widely known and documented in Louisiana for decades. More should have been done sooner by secular officials. But at the risk of sounding trite, there is something to the old saying, ‘Better late than never.’

3. While law enforcement action brings hope to survivors, it’s no panacea. Yes, the New Orleans archdiocesan headquarters was recently raided by state police. That’s the good news. But they walked away empty-handed. That’s the bad news. Just like church officials delay, deny, and stonewall when fighting civil abuse and cover-up lawsuits, they also use these tactics when confronting criminal investigations. Neither law enforcement nor the broader public should expect fast or miraculous results from any agency.

4. The powers that be in Louisiana may finally feel disgusted enough to turn on the archdiocese.

The recent burst of activity in and around the archdiocese suggests to us at Horowitz Law that perhaps others in power in Louisiana are finally losing patience with the state’s highest Catholic authority figure, his obsession with secrecy, his protecting priests over protecting kids, and his difficulties in being honest.

So what’s next? Needless to say, we can’t predict whether or not:

      • Archbishop Aymond never stops fighting to keep records sealed,
      • The bankruptcy judge ever rules for transparency and against secrecy,
      • Fr. Lawrence Hecker ever faces consequences for decades of depravity
      • A single other child molesting priest, monk, seminarian, brother, bishop, or lay church employee ever sees the inside of a courtroom or (can we be so ambitious as to hope?) a prison,
      • The FBI probe ever comes to a productive conclusion, or
      • The state police investigation never does likewise.

We CAN, however, make this prediction: the brave and determined forces pushing for genuine reform and consequences and truth-telling in the New Orleans archdiocese – police, prosecutors, parents, parishioners, journalists, and, of course, most of all, the survivors – are, not quietly going away – and tragically – some have given up. We understand and sympathize with sense of hopelessness.

But the recent flurry of activity – in the media, in the courts, and by law enforcement – is abundant evidence that there’s still a chance that in New Orleans, long-hidden abuse secrets will be disgorged and that long-denied abuse survivors will be vindicated.

Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, contact us today at 888-283-9922 or [email protected] to discuss your options today. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.