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  Ex-Priest Gets Prison for Rape

By Ulysses Torassa
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
March 6, 1993

He was once the family's most trusted friend - a priest who came into their home, prayed with them and took a special interest in their young daughter.

Yesterday, that priest - now out of the clergy and in treatment for pedophilia - was sentenced to five to 25 years in prison for raping the Euclid girl who at first felt privileged to be his "special friend."

In an emotional sentencing before Common Pleas Judge Lillian J. Greene, the victim, now a 20-year-old college student, sobbed her way through a two-page statement in which she talked about how the Rev. Martin Louis raped her and told her she would "burn in hell," if she told anyone.

"When my parents were out at prayer meetings, you would come into my home, my bedroom. At first I thought it was privilege, but no - you had to kiss me and touch, then rape me. But you always took off your collar - did you feel guilty?" she said. "Do you remember laying on top of me, telling me you were God's best friend and that he sent you and if I told, I would burn in hell?" The events happened in 1983 and 1984, but the girl kept it a secret until she broke down and told a teacher in 1989.

Prosecutors initially declined to take the case in 1990, believing the statute of limitations had run out. But it was reconsidered last year, and Louis was indicted on 14 counts of rape, felonious sexual penetration and gross sexual imposition. He pleaded guilty to one count of rape yesterday in a deal that included the five- to 25-year sentence.

After news of his indictment spread, Euclid police received about a dozen calls from people who said Louis had made sexual advances or molested them, according to Detective Joe Bensi.

"Most of the victims are in their late teens or mid-30s now, all female," Bensi said. "We probably documented at least 10. And then there were other people who let us know that he had come into their families and they sensed something was wrong."

None of the other victims wanted to prosecute, Bensi said, knowing that Louis was already facing one criminal case. And the Euclid girl's situation was the worst because he befriended her family for more than two years, longer than any of the others.

"He was almost a part of the family, that's what makes this case so disgusting," Bensi said.

Bensi and the family also criticized the way the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland handled Louis' case. Complaints about his behavior prompted officials there to send him to counseling as early as 1980. He was also reassigned from parish work and warned as late as 1988 to be careful around children. One woman told Bensi she complained to the diocese in 1982 that Louis had fondled her daughter's breast.

Santiago Feliciano, a lawyer for the diocese, said the church felt terrible for the victim, but said officials there did not know the extent of Louis' problem until the Euclid girl came forward in 1990. That's when Louis was forced to resign from the priesthood and began treatment for pedophilia in Maryland.

The victim and her family also sued the diocese and settled out of court last year for an undisclosed amount.

Surrounded by about 20 friends and relatives, the woman told the court it had taken great strength to get through her "hellish journey."

She said when she first met Louis, he would take her out for ice cream or to swim. When he started touching her, she said Louis made her think she was encouraging his advances.

"You took everything I had to offer, even what I didn't. I can never get that back," she said in her statement to the court. "But I can't end without tryig to forgive you and for it has been my hate that hurts me, not you. So as hard as it is to say, I forgive you, but I hope justice will be served."

 
 

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