Family indicates well-known community members have tried to brush church allegations under the rug.
A court complaint was filed in March on behalf of a plaintiff identified only as John Doe against Virgil Maxey “V.M.” Wheeler III, 63, a local attorney and former deacon at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie. Wheeler was arrested in March. Now, a prominent donor to the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans has offered $400,000 to the alleged victim to protect the church despite the deacon’s indiscretions, settle his claims, and stop cooperating with police in a criminal investigation, according to a lawsuit.
The lawsuit states, “Wheeler began grooming a 10- or 11-year-old John Doe and his older brother by taking them to restaurants, movies, and buying them gifts. Wheeler likewise groomed John Doe’s parents by spending time at their home and earning their trust.”
It continued, “The boys would go over to Wheeler’s house to play video games and were allowed to watch R-rated movies there. The boys’ parents were having marital problems and Wheeler’s house became a refuge.” After some time of grooming, the “first instance of molestation was in a movie theater when Wheeler groped John Doe’s genitals. Wheeler also allegedly convinced the plaintiff to take showers with him and sleep in the same bed, where John Doe would be groped.”
The lawsuit alleges that “on at least three occasions the sleepovers progressed to Wheeler performing oral sex on the boy.” The older brother refused to sleep with Wheeler when asked and revealed what was happening to their mother. She confronted Wheeler and the boys stopped going over to his home.
The mother also informed Archbishop Philip Hannan of the deacon’s behavior. In 2018, current Archbishop Gregory Aymond ordained Wheeler to serve under Father Andrew Taormina, the pastor at St. Francis Xavier. The lawsuit states “the mother had informed Taormina in 2017 about her son’s allegations against Wheeler, but these claims weren’t documented.”
Shortly after Wheeler was made a deacon, Aymond called John Doe’s father. He and John Doe “went to the archbishop’s residence next to Notre Dame Seminary in September 2018,” according to the lawsuit. “John Doe told Aymond about the sleepovers and movie theater abuse but didn’t disclose the showers or oral sex because he had yet to disclose those details to his parents.”
Aymond said Wheeler’s behavior was “grooming” and that the archbishop “knew these were felonies that he should have reported to the police.” Aymond did not defrock Wheeler until 2020, however, after John Doe disclosed the oral sex.
Soon after, Vinny Mosca, an attorney and former mayor of Harahan, arranged to meet with John Doe’s parents “to see if there was a possibility for an amicable and expeditious resolution to this matter,” the lawsuit states. Mosca “attempted to discourage the initiation of criminal charges because it would be a ‘media feeding frenzy’ and negative press for John Doe and his family.”
Then, In February of this year, one of John Doe’s attorneys received a phone call from “a very wealthy and well-known benefactor of the Archdiocese of New Orleans” identified in the lawsuit as Mr. R. “Mr. R discussed taking the mortgage on Wheeler’s house so that they could offer to settle John Doe’s claims against Wheeler because they wanted ‘to do something for the boy.’”
The contacts made with the family were carefully detailed in the suit. Wheeler was charged criminally and the litigation over the former deacon’s sex abuse is ongoing.