New claims against Hecker have surfaced as recently as this year. One alleged victim filed court papers in February claiming Hecker in 1983 forced him and other altar boys to strip naked so he could “inspect” them inside the changing room of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church. “He then proceeded to fondle my genitals as well as the other boys in the line,” the now 48-year-old man wrote.

That claim echoed the account of another survivor, Aaron Hebert, who says Hecker abused him in the late 1960s when he was an eighth-grader at St. Joseph’s Catholic elementary school outside New Orleans. Hebert has said Hecker groped him and several classmates while purporting to demonstrate “what a hernia examination would be like” for those interested in playing sports.

“It was all swept under the rug,” Hebert wrote in a letter to a federal judge. “In my opinion, the Archdiocese of New Orleans is morally bankrupt, not financially bankrupt.”

A New Orleans native, Hecker was ordained as an archdiocesan priest in 1958. Court records indicate he was relocated at least 10 times to various parishes despite repeated red flags, his own admissions and an undisputed complaint of child molestation made in the late 1980s.

“Even after Father Hecker made monumental admissions in 1988 and again in 1999, the archdiocese failed to report him to any authorities,” attorneys for Hecker’s alleged victims wrote in a court filing.

The sheer age of the Hecker case presents legal and evidentiary hurdles for prosecutors, who also face the political sensitivity of prosecuting a longtime clergyman in heavily Catholic New Orleans. Many predator priests have escaped criminal consequences in Louisiana for those reasons.

A notable exception came in 2019, when prosecutors filed a first-degree rape charge against George F. Brignac, a longtime deacon and schoolteacher who faced a flood of sex abuse claims. That prosecution also involved a former altar boy who said he was sexually assaulted repeatedly in the 1970s. Brignac died in 2020 while awaiting trial at the age of 85.

Litigation involving Brignac turned up thousands of emails documenting behind-the-scenes public relations work that New Orleans Saints executives did for the archdiocese in 2018 and 2019 to contain fallout from clergy abuse scandals. Like the other secret church records, those emails remain under lock and key today.

“If the church truly wants to clean up the wreckage of the past, it needs to detail every transfer of known abusers, why and how it happened,” said Mike McDonnell, interim executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “They must be fully accountable for the decades in a victim’s life that could have been totally different had church officials taken care of the wounded sheep instead of the abusive shepherd.”