Accused Priest Recalled As Both 'Saint' and Abuser
Associated Press, carried in Kentucky.com [Louisville KY]
September 12, 2004
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - At his death in 1986, the longtime director of Catholic Charities was lauded for his efforts to help refugees, tornado victims and others in need.
Now, 32 people have accused Monsignor Herman J. Lammers in lawsuits of raping, fondling or otherwise molesting them while he was resident chaplain at the former St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage near Anchorage.
To date, 41 people have sued the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Jefferson Circuit Court accusing the order of failing to protect them from abuse between the 1930s and 1970s. Fourteen of the plaintiffs also accuse 15 nuns of sexual or physical abuse, and three others accuse two men identified as a volunteer and an assistant.
Most of the allegations are linked to St. Thomas-St. Vincent, which the order operated for the Catholic Charities agency of the Archdiocese of Louisville. Other allegations are linked to the St. Thomas and St. Vincent orphanages before they merged in 1952, or to schools where the nuns worked in the Louisville area.
A spokeswoman for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth has denied the allegations.
In interviews with the Courier-Journal of Louisville for a story in Sunday's edition, some former residents of the orphanages - plaintiffs and others - told stories of being locked in closets, force-fed until they gagged, thrown down stairs or compelled to crawl for hours as punishments.
But others told stories of stable and happy times. They defend the workers there who shaped their lives. They say they received a good education and a decent start in life, better than what they could have received from their own impoverished or broken families.
"Father Lammers took our innocence," plaintiff Helen Edwards of Dallas said.
Another plaintiff, Deborah Hager of Radcliff, said that when she was between 6 and 8 years old, Lammers would bring girls into his office for parties. They could eat snacks, watch his television and dance to music on his stereo, she said. When she sat on his lap, she said, he would molest her and treat it as a game.
Hager said she still has nightmares and gets "sick in my stomach" when she recalls her time in the orphanage.
Others who lived at the orphanage have nothing but positive memories of Lammers as an enthusiastic and athletic mentor.
"It's inconceivable for this to even happen," said Haysley, who lived at the St. Thomas Orphanage in the 1940s and for decades volunteered on the Catholic Orphans Society board, which supported the program. "These nuns have given their lives to the children, to poor people, to God, and for them to be slandered doesn't seem to be right."
Karen Snyder of Pewee Valley said Lammers protected children, including one night when he allowed her and her sister to stay in his apartment after an upsetting encounter with a nun.
"The man had every opportunity in the world to have done anything he wanted to me and my sisters," she said. "... He never, ever did anything.
"As far as I'm concerned he was a saint on Earth and a great man."
Sister Betty Vannucci, who worked as a teacher and supervisor at St. Thomas-St. Vincent from 1957 to 1962, said in an interview that she was "shocked" to hear the allegations.
"I've thought about it and gone over it and tried to remember everything I could because it's so important," she said, but she said she could recall no hints of either sexual or physical abuse. "I never saw a paddle, I never saw a child paddled."
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