New Orleans priest in hospital after being jailed on child rape charges

— Lawyers tell court Lawrence Hecker, 92, has declined mentally and physically while incarcerated

An undated photo of a younger Lawrence Hecker.

By David Hammer of WWL Louisiana in New Orleans

A 92-year-old retired Catholic priest jailed in New Orleans since September on charges of child rape and kidnapping has been hospitalized, his attorneys said on Friday.

Lawrence Hecker – who admitted that he sexually molested or harassed underage boys in the 1960s and 1970s during a remarkable interview with WWL Louisiana and the Guardian in August – has experienced mental decline, disorientation and some physical ailments while being held in New Orleans’s jail, attorneys argued during a state court hearing.

They requested home confinement for Hecker should he be released from the hospital, but the judge presiding over his case, Ben Willard, said: “That’s not going to happen.”

The New Orleans state prosecutor Ned McGowan suggested a secure hospital that can provide mental health treatment in East Feliciana parish, Louisiana, about 120 miles to the north-west. But McGowan opposed Hecker’s release to home confinement, saying the retired priest had admitted under oath to viewing child sexual abuse images.

McGowan’s remarks appeared to be a reference to a December 2020 deposition given by Hecker in a separate civil lawsuit accusing him of child rape. As the Guardian had previously reported, Hecker said in that deposition that he would look at such images if they “appeared on his computer” while cruising for pornography.

Hecker has been in jail since he was arrested on 8 September on grand jury charges that he choked a high school student and sodomized him while he was unconscious. That was decades after Hecker provided an administrative statement to New Orleans Catholic church leaders in which he acknowledged that he had sexually molested or harassed numerous children whom he had met after becoming an ordained priest in 1958.

Hecker’s clerical career continued until the archdiocese of New Orleans allowed him to retire with full benefits in 2002, during an earlier high point in the worldwide Catholic church’s continuing clerical abuse crisis. The church waited another 16 years before publicly identifying him as a credibly accused child molester.

Less than a month before his indictment, Hecker discussed that statement with WWL Louisiana and the Guardian. Hecker was lucid and stood the whole time during the interview, an 18-minute session during which he said “yes” multiple times when asked whether the statement he had given to his superiors was accurate.

Hecker claimed that society had been more permissive of such behavior in the 1960s and 70s, though it was as illegal to engage in sexual activity with minors then as it is now.

Willard has tentatively set Hecker’s trial date for 25 March. He would face a sentence of mandatory life imprisonment if he is convicted as charged.

Hecker has pleaded not guilty. He has been in the custody of authorities since his arrest because he has not been able to pay the $800,000 bail set for him by Willard.

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