NEW ORLEANS — A Catholic deacon from Metairie who was suspended from public ministry this summer is now under criminal investigation over accusations that he raped a pre-teen boy 20 years ago, according to a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office report released this week.
The initial report on the case shows an unidentified man met with a personal violence investigator at the Sheriff’s Office detectives’ bureau on Oct. 21 and recounted how he had been sexually abused between January 2000 and December 2001, when he was less than 13 years old. He said the abuse occurred at a home on Hector Avenue in Metairie, at the hands of a man who is now 62.
Land records show that the home in question was owned at the time by Virgil Maxey “V.M.” Wheeler III, 62, a prominent New Orleans lawyer who was ordained a deacon in 2018 but was removed from ministry in August over unspecified abuse allegations dating back two decades.
The property on Hector, which Wheeler sold in 2019, is just two blocks from St. Francis Xavier Parish on Metairie Road, where Wheeler served as a deacon.
The police report doesn’t name Wheeler, but Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jason Rivarde on Thursday confirmed that Wheeler is the suspect referenced in the report.
The report lists the offense alleged as first-degree rape of a victim under the age of 13, which is punishable by mandatory life imprisonment upon conviction. One of the definitions that Louisiana law provides for the crime is sex of any kind with a person who is younger than 13.
The report doesn’t name the accuser. The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV are not naming him because of a policy barring the publication of the names of alleged victims of sexual violence without their permission.
The man accusing Wheeler was between the ages of 10 and 12 during the timeframe cited in the report. His attorney declined comment.
Deputies have not booked Wheeler with any crime, and prosecutors have not filed charges. Rivarde on Thursday said the investigation into Wheeler remains ongoing.
Wheeler’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, said he had no comment Thursday. He had previously denied the allegations against Wheeler and called them “scurrilous.”
The report marks the first time any details have been published about the accusations that led the Archdiocese of New Orleans to indefinitely suspend Wheeler from his role as a deacon at St. Francis Xavier.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond announced the action on Aug. 3, saying the archdiocese had just received a “formal allegation of abuse that had occurred 20 years ago,” well before Wheeler’s ordination.
Aymond didn’t elaborate on the claims, though he said the archdiocese had reported the allegations to law enforcement. The archdiocese on Thursday said it had no additional comment on Wheeler.
The allegations surrounding Wheeler prompted him to take a leave of absence from his job at the prominent law firm Chaffe McCall. The firm said Wheeler had been working there as a contract attorney since 2016, though Chaffe McCall’s website had described him as a “partner” in a biographical page that was taken down in the wake of his clerical suspension.
Aymond has said that rigorous psychological testing of deacons and priests implemented nearly two decades ago, in the wake of massive public outrage over revelations of widespread molestation by clergymen, has “significantly reduced incidents of sexual abuse.”
Indeed, while the molestation scandal continues to simmer, there have been few cases where local priests were accused of abuse which occurred in the wake of those reforms.
Just last month, however, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office booked the Rev. Patrick Wattigny -- who was ordained a priest in 1994 -- with four counts of child molestation between 2013 and 2015. Wattigny, who weeks before his arrest was suspended from public ministry by Aymond, is now free on $150,000 bail.
Rivarde on Thursday asked anyone who may have information that would be relevant to the investigation of Wheeler to call detectives at (504) 364-5300.