By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Eight priests who have ministered at churches located in the Diocese of Baton Rouge were among a list of 57 clergy members released by the Archdiocese of New Orleans who have been accused of sexually abusing a minor, which led to their removal from ministry.  

Several of the eight priests named served when what is now the Diocese of Baton Rouge was still part of the archdiocese. The diocese was formed in 1961.  

The priests and the churches they served in that are now part of the Diocese of Baton Rouge:  

– Father Ralph Lawrence, St. Anthony in Baton Rouge;  

– Father Lawrence Hecker, St. Mary of False River Church in New Roads;  

– Father Gerard Howell, St. Pius X Church in Baton Rouge;  

– Father Pierre Cambiairie, St. George Church in Baton Rouge;  

– Father John Franklin, Ascension of Our Lord Church in Donaldsonville;  

– Father Malcolm Strassel, Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant and St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge;  

– Father John Weber, Assumption Church in Plattenville and St. Ann Church in Morganza;  

– Father Michael Hurley, St. Agnes Church in Baton Rouge.  

On seeing the names Bishop Duca explained, “I expected that there would be some cross over in the lists of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Baton Rouge because of the way clergy files are divided when a new diocese is formed.  When the Diocese of Baton Rouge was formed a portion of the clergy formerly of the Archdiocese of New Orleans became clergy of the new Diocese of Baton Rouge under the leadership of the new bishop.  Their personnel files followed them to the new diocese. If a member of the clergy served in this area but remained in the Archdiocese of New Orleans after the split, the files remained in New Orleans. In spite of these administrative divisions, our list will contain all the evidence we find in a systematic review of all our clerical personnel files and will mention those listed on the New Orleans list who served within our geographic area. This will </span id=”13″>ensure that the list we publish will be accurate and complete when released and include the names of every member of the clergy who has served in the diocese who has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.” 

“I know there may be some question about why our list did not come out at the same time as New Orleans,” Bishop Duca added. “The dioceses of Louisiana each are deciding how best to respond to the need for clarity and transparency in reporting sexual abuse in their diocese, and each is working independent of one another in the creation of their responses.

“Every diocese has its own unique set of circumstances and challenges which will affect the timing of the list and its contents. It has been our goal from the first week of my installation as bishop of Baton Rouge to open all our files to a complete and unrestricted review and release the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse within the Diocese of Baton Rouge. We have not been as quick to begin our process mainly because of my just arriving in the diocese and the requirement that we move deliberately and respectfully in this process because of the importance of our work.” 

“We are quickly coming to the end of our planning and will soon be able to announce our process for a credible review of our files and a timetable for when to expect our list to be published,” Bishop Duca said. “I am approaching this as a spiritual undertaking and responsibility that must keep in mind that the lives of the victims who have been violated and wounded by bishops, priests and deacons, not be forgotten in this process. To this end I ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in my personal prayer, I seek the counsel of many and always have before me the voice of the victims so that our actions will hopefully be a help in their healing, an affirmation of the validity of their cry for justice and a call for repentance and renewal. These principles are guiding me to work on this matter with determination to insure a respectful process and outcome. I ask for your prayers as this process continues.” 

Victims of sexual abuse by clergy members who have not come forward can contact the Victims Assistance Office using the confidential diocesan abuse hotline at 225-242-0250.