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Louisiana ex-priest pleads guilty to filming pornographic material on parish altar

November 22, 2022 Catholic News Agency 5
Fr. Travis Clark after his Sept. 30 arrest. / St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 22, 2022 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

Travis Clark, formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, pled guilty Monday to a felony count of obscenity for his actions in filming pornographic material with two hired women atop the altar of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Pearl River, Louisiana. 

Clark admitted his guilt as part of a plea deal in the state district court in Covington, Louisiana.

Clark received a suspended three-year prison sentence, three years supervised probation and a $1,000 fine, reported

On Sept. 30, 2020, the now-defrocked priest was arrested, along with the two women involved. A bystander called the police after seeing the lewd actions occurring while passing by the church windows. When authorities arrived at the scene, they removed Clark, the two women, multiple articles of sexual paraphernalia as well as lights and recording devices. 

In the wake of the arrest, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans called Clark’s behavior “obscene,” “deplorable,” and “demonic.” Aymond ordered the burning and replacement of the desecrated altar. 

The two women arrested with Clark pled guilty in July to misdemeanor counts of institutional vandalism. Both received two years probation. One of the women refers to herself as “Satanatrix” and had posted on social media the day before that she planned to “defile a house of God.” 

Though the desecrated altar had to be destroyed, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released a statement at the time saying that, “there was no desecrating of the Blessed Sacrament” and that no other sacred vessels were known to be involved. 


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New Orleans archdiocese to pay $1m settlement for “fraudulent” Hurricane Katrina claims

November 15, 2021 Catholic News Agency 1
New Orleans’ Jackson Square. / And_Ant / Shutterstock.

New Orleans, La., Nov 15, 2021 / 15:24 pm (CNA).

The Archdiocese of New Orleans will pay more than $1 million in a settlement related to allegations of fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Justice announced Nov. 15. 

According to the DOJ, the settlement “resolves allegations” that the Archdiocese of New Orleans “knowingly signed certifications for FEMA funding that contained false or fraudulent damage descriptions and repair estimates that were prepared by AECOM, an architecture and engineering firm based in Los Angeles,” from a period lasting from 2007 through 2013.

A former project specialist for AECOM first brought the allegations in a 2016 federal lawsuit, which alleged that the Archdiocese of New Orleans, as well as two historically black New Orleans universities, improperly applied for and received millions of dollars in federal funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

According to the DOJ press release, among the many allegations of fraud received were claims of damage to a central air conditioning unit that never existed, as well as inaccurate reporting of the number of square feet in a facility. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined to comment on Monday after the settlement figure was released, but has in the past denied any wrongdoing. 

Katrina, which hit New Orleans during August 2005, killed at least 1,800 people and devastated much of the city. In the years since Katrina and Rita, which hit the region the month after, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out nearly $20 billion in relief.

“FEMA offers critical financial support when natural disasters strike,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division in a statement released by the department Monday. 

“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that these taxpayer funds are properly spent to help disaster victims rebuild their communities,” he said. The release noted that the claims alleged in the lawsuit “are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.”

During the 2007-13 period, the archdiocese was led by Archbishop Alfred Hughes and Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Aymond, the current archbishop, succeeded Hughes in Aug. 2009.

The settlement, which is based on the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ financial condition, required final approval of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which approved the settlement on Oct. 26. The Archdiocese of New Orleans filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 1, 2020 amid a number of lawsuits related to historical sexual abuse of minors.

“Federal disaster funds are an instrumental component in the effort to assist disaster victims with their recovery,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in the Department of Justice’s press release. 

“The favorable resolution of this False Claims Act matter illustrates the collaborative efforts and firm commitment by our federal partners to use all available remedies to address signs of fraud, waste and abuse,” they said. 

Robert Ramero, the former AECOM Project Specialist-turned-whistleblower, alleged in his lawsuit that several entities in New Orleans, including Xavier University, the archdiocese, and Dillard University, defrauded FEMA after the hurricane. 

As of 2018, FEMA had obligated nearly $184 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans for Katrina-related recovery work. At least 32 archdiocesan facilities sustained damage in the storm, FEMA says.

Xavier University, which is Catholic, previously agreed to pay $12 million as part of a settlement related to these allegations. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans denied any sort of fraud in a statement issued in June 2020, after the AECOM employee’s lawsuit was unsealed. 

“Our finance office worked diligently and relied upon the knowledge and expertise of FEMA and their designated agencies and field representatives,” said representatives from the archdiocese. 

“Our staff was committed to working responsibly and being good stewards of the money received, and our documentation reflects that.” 

The archdiocese claimed in June 2020 that they were surprised by the questioning, and that  “Every dollar of FEMA funds received has gone back into the restoration of parish, school and other properties to serve the people of the Greater New Orleans community.”

“We deny the allegation that the Archdiocese of New Orleans knowingly conspired to submit false information. We have cooperated with the federal government’s investigation and will continue to work with them as we resolve this claim,” they said.


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‘We’ll get through it’: New Orleans pastor looks to rebuild after Ida

September 2, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Damage at St. Stephen’s Catholic School in New Orleans / Monsignor Christopher Nalty

Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2021 / 15:00 pm (CNA).

A New Orleans pastor whose parish school was severely damaged in Hurricane Ida is bracing himself for a “big expense,” but hopes classroom life will not be overly disrupted for students this year. 

St. Stephen Catholic School, located in Uptown New Orleans, lost the roof of its gymnasium when Hurricane Ida swept through the area on Aug. 29. 

“At some point during the early part of the storm, the wind got underneath the vinyl material and then just ripped everything off the roof,” Monsignor Christopher Nalty, pastor of St. Stephen’s church and school, told CNA on Thursday. 

The type of roof formerly on the gymnasium “is very prone to getting destroyed,” Nalty explained. And while the full extent of the damage is not yet known, he suspects that the floor of the gymnasium is destroyed as well. He is also waiting to find out how the other wing of the school, with classrooms, fared. 

“We’re going to have to replace the roof,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on now.” 

In-person classes in the Archdiocese of New Orleans are suspended until after Labor Day, due to the effects of the hurricane. Many areas of the archdiocese still do not have power. 

Local media reported on the significant damage at the school. 

“Take a look at this. It looks like the roof came off of the school building,” said Travers Mackel, a reporter and anchor at WDSU News in a video surveying the area. “This is by far the worst damage that we’ve seen right here.” 

Mackel said that most of the destruction in the surrounding area was to vegetation, and that only St. Stephen Catholic School seemed to have suffered significant property damage. 

Pieces of the school’s roof were strewn into nearby trees and in the street. The church building, located next to the school, was largely spared, although part of the steeple was damaged. 

Nalty told CNA that he hopes to replace the gym roof with one made out of slatted steel. He said that many Gulf Coast churches have opted to replace their roofs with similar styles after they sustained storm damage.

“I said to [a contractor] ‘That’s what I want on the school,’” Nalty said. “‘Cause I don’t want to fix this again, you know?”

The cost of the repairs is not yet clear, but Nalty told CNA that he does not think it will be cheap. The archdiocese’s insurance policy charges a 3% deductible for any damage done by a named storm, such as Hurricane Ida. 

“So 3% of the value of the whole building is the deductible,” he said. “For instance, for my school, my church, I think it’s valued at $15 million. So that means I have a $450,000 deductible before any insurance kicks in.”

For Nalty, the school and its students hold a very special place in his heart, and he hopes that they will be able to return to the school before too long. 

“I do a lot of different things in the archdiocese. I teach at the seminary. I’ve got three churches. Quite possibly, the most important thing I do is the school,” he said, blinking back tears. 

The school was founded in 1852, and serves students from age two through seventh grade. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, St. Stephen Catholic School became a “central school” that took in students whose schools were destroyed. 

“Now our school is about 98% African-American and they are from the poorest demographic of the city,” said Nalty. “My principal is a rockstar and these kids are all on scholarship.”

The school is “such a family,” said Nalty. Students are brought to campus early for breakfast, and stay afterwards for aftercare. For the last four years, every graduate has been admitted into a Catholic high school in New Orleans, with a scholarship. 

“They go to school in this family community. We have Mass every Friday,” he said. “The kids are actively engaged. They know their faith.” 

The opportunities provided to St. Stephen’s students “means the trajectory of their lives has been changed.” 

“Their chances are exponentially different from their neighbors that go to the public schools,” said Nalty. “It’s an incredibly important ministry to me. I just love these kids. They’re just, [the storm damage is] just hard.”

“But anyway, you know, well… We’ll get through it.” 

Anyone wishing to support the rebuilding effort can do so here.