More Abuse Drama in New Orleans — Laity May Have Aided Cover-Up — By: Church Militant

NEW ORLEANS ( – A report in New Orleans is showcasing the failures of the institutional Church and its members in handling sex abuse.

V.M. Wheeler

Television station WWL in New Orleans detailed this week the case of a former archdiocesan deacon that Church leadership mishandled while some lay members seemingly attempted to protect him. 

The news organization documented, “More than 10 months after he pleaded guilty to child molestation and after his victim received a substantial financial settlement, the Roman Catholic archdiocese of New Orleans has at last acknowledged that deacon V.M. Wheeler was a credibly accused child molester.”

The local news disclosed that after being ordained a deacon by Abp. Gregory Aymond in 2018,

Wheeler would be accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy … suspended from ministry, arrested on suspicion of raping the child, charged with aggravated sexual battery, accused in a lawsuit of trying to pay the victim $400,000 to stop working with police and — in December 2022 — pleaded guilty to indecent behavior with a juvenile.

“Aymond would not make Wheeler the 78th cleric … faced with credible allegations of child molestation until this month, after WWL-TV and the Guardian questioned his omission from the roster in August and settlement of the victim’s civil suit against Wheeler’s estate in September,” WWL recorded. V.M. Wheeler was a “prominent attorney and Church benefactor” who was ordained a deacon in 2018 and died at 64 years old in April 2023.

Patrick Wattigny

Wheeler’s victim Mac McCall, 34, said in an interview with WWL, prior to the addition of Wheeler’s name to the list of credibly accused churchmen, “They can’t even do something as simple as put somebody on the list who admitted it.” McCall attempted to have the former deacon’s name added to the credibly accused list, but was met with excuses from the archdiocese.

When McCall scheduled a meeting with the archbishop after Wheeler took a plea deal in December 2022, he was met by archdiocesan attorney Susan Zeringue, who told him, “ We don’t interfere with ongoing civil or criminal litigation. Whenever that’s going on, we take a step back.”

WWL pointed out, “In at least two other recent cases — Patrick Wattigny and Brian Highfill — Aymond added priests to the list while criminal or civil cases were pending against them.” It was also reported, “In August, a church spokesperson gave WWL-TV yet another reason Wheeler wasn’t added to the list: because the abuse happened prior to his ordination. However, the second priest on the original list … is on there for alleged abuse … prior to his ordination in 1980.”     

Brian Highfill

McCall originally met with Abp. Aymond in September 2018 and told him that “Wheeler had fondled [his] genitals in a movie theater when he was 10 or 11 years old.” Aymond called the meeting after hearing rumors of Wheeler’s actions. McCall’s father said in a police interview, “I remember the archbishop mentioned it as grooming activities.”

According to the report, “grooming” does not rise to the level of “abuse.” McCall did not tell Aymond the whole truth at the time. “Mac said Wheeler had threatened him to never come forward and in 2018, Mac was still afraid to tell his father or Aymond about the showers Wheeler took with him or the oral sex Wheeler performed on him,” WWL divulged. “He wouldn’t give those full details until July 2020 — but he questioned why Aymond did nothing to investigate his first complaint in 2018, which explicitly mentioned fondling.” Wheeler was suspended from ministry in August 2020. 

Aymond rebutted, in a recorded conversation obtained through a public records request by Richard Windmann, president of Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, “Not only did he say there was no sexual activity, abuse, but it was also very clear that neither he nor his dad wanted to participate in any kind of investigation.” When asked by the police if he believed McCall, Aymond said he did, but added,

Now the story’s changed three times. So I’m not saying I don’t believe him, but I also want to say, respectfully, that his past in terms of drugs and alcohol and being in a psychiatric hospital and all, which I didn’t know at the time, I think that that plays into it.

McCall said of the archbishop’s comments, “A lot of victims and a lot of survivors have drug issues because they’re trying to self-medicate because they were abused.”

Richard Windmann

McCall also faced scrutiny from local church benefactors. WWL detailed, “In February 2021, months into the law enforcement investigation of Wheeler, church benefactor Louie Roussel called Mac’s lawyer, Richard Trahant.” According to McCall, his understanding of the event was that Roussel offered $400,000 to “make it go away.” The news article further detailed Roussel and Trahant’s recorded call about the money to allegedly drop the lawsuit. 

“Roussel has since denied that the payment was offered to cut off McCall’s cooperation with law enforcement, which would be illegal,” WWL noted. “He has said it was an offer in his capacity as a lawyer for [Danny] Kingston, who was taking on an interest in Wheeler’s mansion, to settle a civil lawsuit before it was filed.”

Another incident occurred where someone in Wheeler’s camp attempted to intimidate McCall into silence. “Someone from Wheeler’s defense team at one point dropped off a packet on the doorstep of Trahant’s office containing confidential medical records. Those records were created during a 2010 stint that Mac had in a drug addiction rehabilitation program,” WWL disclosed. 

McCall ultimately did prevail in court, with Wheeler pleading guilty to “indecent behavior with a juvenile.” In December 2022, Wheeler pleaded guilty, was sentenced to probation and was required to register as a sex offender,” WWL recorded. “The sex offender registration infuriated Wheeler, and he abruptly backed out of an agreement of more than $1 [million] to settle the civil lawsuit Mac filed against him.”

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News Report: FBI Enters New Territory

“Wheeler, however, died in April. And in September, because the archdiocese’s bankruptcy filing didn’t shield Wheeler, his estate paid out Mac’s settlement, which is believed to be one of the largest involving abuse by a Catholic clergyman serving the New Orleans area,” WWL continued.

McCall proclaimed, “It’s hard enough for the general population to accept this is happening. And then you have these elite people stepping in to cover up, to pay off people. It’s not right. It’s illegal and it’s a huge part of the problem.” McCall now runs a physical and mental health fitness program for schoolchildren. 

McCall ultimately did prevail in court, with Wheeler pleading guilty to ‘indecent behavior with a juvenile.’

McCall’s mother, Mary Lou McCall, a former journalist and host of a Catholic television show, reportedly brought concerns about Wheeler to the archdiocese in 2002. WWL noted, “Mary Lou McCall said Mac’s older brother, Johnny, got back from a ski trip to Utah in 2002 and reported that Wheeler had made him sleep in the same bed with him.”

She allegedly immediately took the claims to retired New Orleans archbishop Philip Hannan and Dcn. Jim Swiler. She was working on a film with Abp. Hannan at the time and Swiler was the head of the deacon program. McCall’s mother reported she told the duo, “He’s talking about becoming a deacon for this archdiocese. And if you all make him a deacon and he ends up abusing any child, and now that you’ve heard my story — this is like a warning. Then, it’s on you.” Hannan and Swiler are both deceased and Abp. Aymond claimed there is no record of a complaint being made.

— Campaign 31877 —

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