New Orleans Archbishop seeks to oust accused clergymen from priesthood
BATON ROUGE — According to WWL-TV, New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond has requested all diocesan priests on his list of religious men credibly accused of molesting children to leave the Catholic clergy entirely, a request that includes the 21 accused clergymen in Baton Rouge.
Aymond is also considering possible church trials in Rome with the goal of forcing Patrick Wattigny and Travis Clark out of the clergy, two priests who were implicated in separate sex scandals this month.
WWL-TV says Wattigny allegedly admitted to the archdiocese on Oct. 1 that he sexually abused a minor in 2013.
That same day, police in Pearl River booked Clark with obscenity after he was discovered taping himself as he engaged in three-way sex with two dominatrices on the altar at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office is currently investigating the allegations against Wattingy.
Aymond has reportedly been privately asking credibly accused clergy to voluntarily leave the priesthood and return to the laity since 2018. The process he's recommending to these accused individuals is called “laicization,” according to archdiocesan officials.
There is a marked distinction between removal from ministry and laicization; according to Canon Law 290, once ordained, a priest must continue to meet his obligations and can continue to receive the benefits of the clerical state until he is laicized.
That’s why, WWL-TV reports, the archdiocese kept paying retirement benefits to retired priests who'd been removed from ministry. This ended, however, when a federal judge overseeing the archdiocese's Chapter 11 bankruptcy ruled it could only pay for their health insurance. If those clergymen are laicized, they would no longer receive any benefits at all.
That said, not even laicization erases the sacramental imprint of ordination. Catholics believe a layperson who joins the clergy undergoes an actual, permanent change that no church can undo.
Aymond said he immediately removed both Wattigny and Clark from active ministry.
“This signifies ... a change in practice between Archbishop Aymond and previous archbishops in dealing with priests removed from ministry because of abuse or scandal, as well as changes in practices by the (Vatican) that continue to be updated,” archdiocesan officials said in a statement to WWL-TV.
Attorney Bill Arata represents a boy at Pope John Paul II High School who reported received inappropriate texts from Wattigny this year, when the priest was the school’s chaplain. Arata was glad to hear about Aymond’s more aggressive stance, but he also wants swift action in the criminal case.
“The archbishop's pursuit of removing Fr. Wattigny from the priesthood... well, it's high time,” Arata said. “I hope he'll take the next logical step and work closely with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's Office to more aggressively pursue this admitted child sexual predator.”
Aymond’s staff has repeatedly said the archdiocese is “fully” cooperating with the investigation into Wattigny.