NEW ORLEANS — Two local Catholic priests have been removed from active ministry, and one has been criminally charged with obscenity, according to the Archdiocese of New Orleans in a statement released on behalf of Archbishop Gregory Aymond on Thursday.
The two priests are Rev. Patrick Wattigny, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell, and Rev. Travis Clark, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul in Pearl River, have been removed from ministry, effective immediately.
The archdiocese said Wattigny disclosed to them on Thursday his sexual abuse of a minor in 2013. The archdiocese said law enforcement has been notified of his case, though it did not give specifics. He has been added to the archdiocese's list of clergy credibly accused of abuse.
Clark has been "charged with obscenity with women," the church said in its release, although it did not specify where the charges were filed or the nature of the alleged crimes. The archdiocese did say the allegation did result in criminal charges and does not involve abuse of a minor.
Wattigny becomes the latest priest to be added to a list compiled by the Archdiocese of New Orleans of dozens of clergymen credibly accused of sexual abuse. The archdiocese first released the list two years ago and since then has faced criticism for omissions which have recently come to light.
Ordained a priest in 1994, Wattigny has served as pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist in Slidell since 2013. He is also well-known locally as a former chaplain at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie, where he served for more than a decade until May 2013.
According to a biography on the St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Church web site, Wattigny was pastor at St. Benilde in Metairie from 2000 to 2013 before being named pastor at St. Luke.
In addition, his previous assignments included as assistant pastor at St. Peter in Covington, Visitation of our Lady in Marrero and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (now Divine Mercy Catholic Church) in Kenner.
A 2019 story in The Farmer newspaper also said he served as president of Pope John II High School and served as the school’s chaplain at the time.
A New Orleans native, Wattigny is a graduate of Holy Cross School, the University of New Orleans and Notre Dame Seminary.
In a 2019 story in The Farmer newspaper about the 25th anniversary of his ordination, Wattigny said he cherished his role as “spiritual father and leader.”
He said two of the most fulfilling parts of his priesthood were working with couples engaged to be married and mentoring young men who are considering the priesthood.
“I’ve kept track of all of my weddings, and I’m proud that more than 500 of those couples are still married,” he said in 2019. “I also feel so blessed that I have helped several young men to enter the priesthood. We change the world one soul at a time, one Mass at a time, one act of faith at a time.”
In the story, Wattigny said his role as mentor to those considering the priesthood was important, since the church continues to suffer the effects of the clergy abuse scandal.
“I see this as a challenge and an opportunity. We need to restore the faith in our church, and we will be doing that for the next 25 or even 50 years,” he said last year.
Clark has been pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul since 2019, according to the church's website.
In his statement Thursday, Aymond asked for any additional victims of sex abuse to come forward.
"Both of these situations are very troubling to me. When a priest does not live out his vocation faithfully he suffers consequences and I must notify the parishioners, school families, and public in general," the archbishop wrote. "Please pray for all those affected, especially the parishioners of the parishes and school communities where they have served."
Aymond said he will preside in Pearl River for the Vigil Mass on Saturday, October 3 and at St. Luke in Slidell for the Sunday 9am and 11am Masses, to pray with parishioners.
After accusers with detailed claims came forward after almost two decades of allegations, an archdiocesan board recommended that Archbishop Gregory Aymond add Highfill to the roster of priests and deacons suspected of molestation or other inappropriate conduct.
Aymond accepted the recommendation, putting Highfill on a list alongside 63 other clergymen. Wattigny becomes the 65th to be named to the list.