Miller's Comments Indicate Archdiocese Officials Knew Decades Ago about Abuse

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded February 13, 2003

In a journal written during 12 years of therapy, the Rev. Louis E. Miller describes a decadeslong struggle with pedophilia and says that, in 1961, an archbishop reassigned him to another parish despite being told Miller was accused of abusing children.

The journal is part of a 246page treatment file obtained by The Courier-Journal, and Miller's comments indicate for the first time that archdiocese officials knew decades ago of abuse complaints and acted on them in secret.

The issue is central to more than 200 lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville alleging that it was aware of abuse by priests but covered it up.

Miller, now 72, has been criminally charged with molesting 29 children and has been accused of abuse in 83 of the lawsuits filed against the archdiocese. He has pleaded innocent to all the criminal charges.

In his journal, produced under a therapist's supervision from 1990 to 2002, Miller chronicles a descent into pedophilia as a young priest and an ensuing 40year struggle of the spirit and the flesh.

He acknowledges numerous acts of molestation between 1960 and the 1980s, including some that have not been cited by any other source.

"My offenses have crushed me; damaged my priesthood, my family, my friends, parishioners, fellow priests and children that were not offended but know of my offenses," he wrote in 1993, long before the public became aware of allegations against him.

He also alleges that as early as 1961, he offered, in the wake of molestation complaints, to leave the priesthood. But then-Archbishop John Floersh "said no and that 'I would be a good priest,' " Miller wrote. At the time he was stationed at Holy Spirit Church.

Miller wrote that he was reprimanded by Floersh, told to see a psychiatrist and soon after was transferred to St. Athanasius, where he abused again.

There is no independent corroboration of Miller's account of his conversation with Floersh, written 33 years after the alleged incident. Floersh died in 1968, and the Louisville archdiocese has said it has no records indicating knowledge of accusations against Miller -- or archdiocesan intervention -- before 1989.

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, declined to comment on the contents of the file, citing pending court cases and saying he has not seen the "apparently confidential medical records."

The file includes 116 pages of handwritten essays by Miller, done while he was under the supervision of Dennis Wagner, a Louisville psychologist who specializes in treating sex offenders.

The file spans the therapist's work with Miller from 1990, when the archdiocese referred Miller to him, to 2002. It also includes Wagner's notes.

Wagner did not reply to phone messages left at his office or to a certified letter sent there.

The Courier-Journal obtained the document from attorney William McMurry, who represents most of the 209 plaintiffs currently suing the archdiocese over alleged sexual abuse by Miller and other church personnel.

McMurry said he obtained the document from Miller's attorney, David Lambertus. He said Lambertus provided the document "in the spirit of cooperation" with Miller's accusers.

Miller, reached late last week at his retirement home in Louisville, asked that the writings not be published. "To print any part of my medical and psychological records is a violation of my human rights and confidentiality" between Miller and his therapist, he told a reporter.

McMurry contends that the document reinforces his clients' contention that church officials knew of Miller's acts and covered them up.

"Father Louis Miller is the person who has direct personal knowledge of what the archdiocese knew and when they knew it," McMurry said.

That issue is central to the civil abuse cases naming Miller but filed against the archdiocese.

Most of the allegations of abuse fall outside the state's current statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving child abuse. Evidence that church officials knew of the abuse and covered it up by moving priests to new assignments should remove that legal impediment, McMurry said.

FRUSTRATION AND GUILT 'Two minutes of pleasure' causes pain for many

In his writings, Miller pours out sexual frustrations, guilt and shame.

"Two minutes of pleasure has possibly caused boys over 20 years of mental pain and anguish," he wrote.

Miller also wrote of suffering sexual abuse himself as a child, of a stifling silence about sex in his family and during seminary training, and about his fixation on boys who he said represented his own lost adolescence.

"I have great sympathy for my victims," he wrote. "They have great cause to be angry."

Other writings focus on frustrations with celibacy, of sexual infatuation with women that allegedly included one affair, and of his ache for lost opportunities for a marriage and family.

Miller wrote that he lived a double life.

"They celebrated my goodness without knowing my badness," he wrote about a 1981 party marking his 25th anniversary in the priesthood. He was pastor then at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church.

It is uncommon for an accused priest's therapeutic records to be made public, according to lawyers experienced with clergy-abuse cases. Psychological evaluations of priests, requested by their bishops, are more commonly entered into the record. Such evaluations were part of the more than 400 pages of Miller's personnel records entered into the civilcourt record last year.

Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has represented hundreds of plaintiffs against Catholic dioceses, said therapeutic records can be crucial in providing church liability, but he is "more often than not" unable to get access to them because of legal protections on therapist-patient confidentiality.

Victims' advocates and lawyers who have represented plaintiffs and Catholic dioceses say the writings of an accused priest can offer valuable insights into their inner struggles and their actions.

But they also caution that Miller's words should be read with some skepticism, because they were intended for his therapist and, at least indirectly, for his boss at the time, Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly.

In 1992 and again in 1998, Miller signed releases authorizing Wagner to release information on his treatment to Kelly. Reynolds said the archdiocese received reports from Wagner but not Wagner's original notes or Miller's journals.

Reynolds confirmed that McMurry provided a copy of Miller's treatment file in late January to Edward H. Stopher, who is representing the archdiocese in the abuse cases, as part of the ongoing exchange of evidence in the litigation.

Stopher referred a request for comment to Reynolds, who said the attorney did not send the files to the archdiocese "because he has some questions about receiving materials after the fact from an outside, unnamed source beyond the direct source of Mr. McMurry."

'I KNEW I WAS SICK' Archdiocese sent Miller to therapist in late 1975

Beyond his allegations of the conversation with Floersh in 1961, Miller's writings suggest that Archbishop Thomas McDonough, who succeeded Floersh in 1967 and served through 1981, also knew of his abuse and kept him in ministry.

McDonough died in 1998.

Miller wrote that archdiocesan officials sent him to a therapist, Dr. Robert O'Connor, in late 1975, after he admitted to the parents of a boy at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Pewee Valley that he had engaged in masturbation with the boy.

"I knew I was sick," Miller wrote.

O'Connor, who is semiretired, did not reply to a certified letter sent to his home or to a phone message left at his home.

Miller's personnel file includes one letter from O'Connor to McDonough, dated March 22, 1976.

Miller "has been involved in therapy and is making some progress," O'Connor wrote. "I think he is capable to handle a temporary assignment at this point and I will continue to follow with him on an outpatient basis." The letter does not specify the reason for the therapy.

Several plaintiffs have said in court papers that their abuse was reported to church officials during the administrations of Floersh and McDonough.

Patrick Schiltz, an associate dean of the St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis who has helped Catholic dioceses defend hundreds of child sexual abuse lawsuits, said that wouldn't be surprising.

He noted that in the 1960s, bishops treated pedophilia "as a moral offense, like telling lies. . . . No one had any sense of the damage to the victims or the strength of the disease."

Bishops believed "if you called them in, chewed them out and told them not to do it again, they wouldn't do it again."

Susan Archibald, president of The Linkup, a Louisville-based national advocacy group for victims of clergy sexual abuse, said it was "shocking" to hear of Miller's allegation that Floersh rejected an offer to resign in 1961.

"It shows there was not only a sick man in Louisville for a very long time, but he knew he was a sick man, and I think, like many abusers, he hoped that somebody would stop him," she said.

"Think of all the victims who could have been spared that nightmare."

DECADES OF ALLEGATIONS Miller says he stopped abusing children in 1985

Though most claims against Miller allege abuse from the 1960s and 1970s, seven people claim he molested them in the 1980s, one as late as 1988. No one has accused Miller of abusing children since then.

In his writings, Miller says he stopped abusing children in 1985.

Kelly, who became leader of the archdiocese in 1982, removed Miller from parish assignments in 1990 after learning of one allegation against him. Kelly has said he was unaware until then of accusations against Miller.

He ordered then that Miller be barred from any ministry with children; during the next 12 years, Miller worked as an administrator at Holy Name parish, then as chaplain of Sacred Heart Home and Sacred Heart Village, a retirement complex.

Miller agreed to the restrictions barring him from contact with children, according to a 1993 letter from Wagner to Archbishop Kelly. But his treatment file shows that he was in contact with them.

As chaplain at the Sacred Heart home, Miller regularly encountered the grandchildren of residents. And he conducted funerals and substituted at Masses at various parishes around the archdiocese, regularly working with servers who were children.

Wagner wrote in notes about Miller from a 1993 session: "Servers -- has Mass in parishes when asked. Not in sacristy alone w/them. If he's left alone, he walks out. . . . Has been many years since he had server who was victim."

Reynolds said the church based Miller's "limited and restricted ministry" assignment on the information it had at the time.

"His supervisor at the nursing home was aware of the accusations, and he was under the care of a therapist," Reynolds said. "We believed at the time that was an appropriate assignment."

Church officials, he said, were not aware of "the breadth and depth of the allegations that have surfaced over the past year."

Reynolds also said Miller sometimes worked beyond his restrictions.

"It is true Father Miller was told on more than one occasion he should not be involved in public Masses in the community," Reynolds said. "When Archbishop Kelly got reports that he was doing so, he was told not to do so."

There are no allegations of abuse from that period. But while Miller wrote then that his therapy was successful, his writings show he believed he posed a danger.

"I am only in recovery and will never be immune, nor will children be safe from me," he wrote in his journal.

In July 2002, after Catholic bishops voted to bar all abusers from ministry, Kelly wrote Miller barring him from public ministry.

CORROBORATION Writings support many of the accusers' claims

Miller's writings corroborate many of his accusers' claims -- such as the specifics of how he allegedly abused them, the years when he allegedly was actively abusing, and when he was removed from assignments by church officials over accusations of abuse.

Miller writes, for example, that he began abusing boys in 1960 and 1961, which matches the allegations of many of the 33 plaintiffs who attended Holy Spirit Church and School.

A few plaintiffs have additionally accused Miller of earlier abuse, in the 1950s. Miller was ordained in 1956.

Miller wrote that he was removed from four parishes by archdiocesan officials after being accused of abusing children at each.

Miller also wrote of sexual episodes that have never been alleged publicly. He wrote about molesting boys in a large family he befriended in the early 1970s, caressing another boy at a rural parish where he worked in 1976 and molesting a girl on a school bus in the early 1960s.

Miller also alluded to being sexually abused as a boy.

A previously publicized 1990 report by Richard Brush, a Cincinnati psychiatrist who evaluated Miller on behalf of the archdiocese after an abuse accusation, said Miller discussed being subjected to sexual play by two workers at a neighborhood store when he was 4 or 5.

Prosecutors filed Brush's report in Jefferson Circuit Court last year in connection with criminal charges against the priest.

In his therapy with Wagner, Miller wrote that his parents, who are deceased, had a taboo on talking about sex and imposed a "big boys never cry" mind-set against expressing emotions.

Miller wrote that he was unprepared for a life as a celibate priest. "We were too scared to discuss personal sexual feeling with other seminarians," he wrote.

As he entered the priesthood, he felt a growing "frustration over celibacy, frustration over lack of sex with women in my life," he wrote.

According to Wagner's notes, Miller said he had no sexual desire for grown men, and devoted attention to boys in part because "he wanted to experience what they experienced, as if he was look(in)g for someth(in)g he missed."

Miller wrote that he preyed in particular on boys ages 12-15 who were "deprived of good communication with parents, especially their fathers."

These boys, Miller wrote, welcomed having an adult show interest in them.

"Such boys could become 'targets,' " he wrote. 'Some did. . . . I did not like to see children 'hurting' emotionally. I wanted to care for them. Even though my intentions were good, my caring for them slipped at times, into . . . hugging, or comforting them, which led to abuse."

Miller described other times when his sexual urges were so overpowering -- often, he wrote, arising from job stress -- that "anyone could be a target."

One such period, Miller wrote, took place when he was associate pastor at Holy Spirit in the early 1960s, his first church assignment. Miller wrote that he would approach boys for "fondling, asking questions of their sexual development under guise of sex instruction."

During times when he was abusing regularly, Miller wrote, he would often pray in anguish for forgiveness late at night or wash down his shame with whiskey.

"Back in my apartment I felt like 'vomit' " he wrote of one period in the early 1970s.

Miller also recounted abusing a girl while he was driving a parish school bus for St. Athanasius Church in the early 1960s, filling in for a driver who had been fired.

"It was during this time that I became attracted to and attractive to one of the 8th grade girls," he wrote. "This attraction led to hugging and possibly kissing her on a few occasions, after school. She was last to leave the school bus. I recall that on two, maybe three occasions, I hugged her knowing I had an erection and she could feel my body against her."

Miller wrote that he had the girl fondle him over his clothing. "This situation startled and scared me. I fought my attraction for her from then on."

Seven of Miller's accusers in pending lawsuits are women, but none attended St. Athanasius.

Miller also wrote that he has always been preoccupied with sexual desires for women.

He wrote of having a sexual affair with a woman about 1972. During that time, Miller wrote, several friends were leaving the priesthood to get married.

"I thought I was in love with a woman years ago," Miller wrote in a 1993 journal entry. "My sexual desires for her were great. Several times we shared our thoughts and feelings. Finally, one night when we had intercourse, as much as I enjoyed it, I realized my priesthood meant more to me."


Miller writes that therapy generated sympathy, empathy

In 1995, Miller wrote that his five years of therapy with Wagner had helped him greatly.

"My lack of sympathy and empathy for victims did not even occur in a measurable way in 1990," he wrote. "I pray daily for their healing even though I do not know all of them. I have empathy since I have some recollection of my being a victim."

Miller's public stance contrasted with that remorse.

When Mark Delmenhorst sued him in 1990, Miller officially denied the charge. He admitted in his therapy sessions that he molested Delmenhorst but was "plagued/preoccupied by anger that accusations in court are stronger than the actual offense," Wagner wrote in notes from 1990.

Miller also denied allegations in a 1999 lawsuit filed by his niece, Mary C. Miller, that he sexually abused her when she was a girl. The priest answered "no" when asked in a 1999 deposition -- taken under oath -- if he was a pedophile.

Wagner's notes say the priest didn't remember molesting any nieces and "couldn't imagine it," though Miller acknowledged he did "touch nephews." Four female and three male relatives are now accusing Miller of abuse in lawsuits.

Both the Delmenhorst and Mary C. Miller lawsuits from the 1990s were settled out of court, and neither came to public attention until April 2002, when The Courier-Journal reported on Miller's retirement amid allegations of sexual abuse.

"Perpetrators often go on a roller coaster of denial and regret," said The Linkup's Archibald. "For most abusers, at some point they recognize the harm they've done and express regret, but that is often followed by a period where they deny their actions."

RUNNING FROM THE PAST Miller reportedly considered coming clean about the abuse

Miller spent much of the 1990s in intensive therapy. Besides seeing Wagner, Miller was a member of a support group of priests, according to Wagner's notes.

Fearful of his past catching up with him, Miller was "debating about whether to go public -- come out," Wagner wrote in 1994, but the notes do not say what came of the idea.

Wagner wrote that Miller was particularly rattled when a fellow priest, the Rev. Charles Dittmeier, confronted him in 1995. Dittmeier, Wagner wrote, told Miller that his brother, Paul Dittmeier, had accused Miller of abusing him at St. Aloysius Church 20 years earlier. Paul Dittmeier is now suing over the alleged abuse; his brother could not be reached for comment.

Paul Dittmeier and another current plaintiff, Tim Baker, each brought allegations to the archdiocese in the mid-1990s asking why Miller hadn't been removed from the priesthood, according to Wagner's treatment notes.

Miller discussed with Wagner the possibility of leaving the priesthood at that time. But Miller eventually decided to stay, saying, "If he reoffended, he'd leave," Wagner wrote.

Peter Isely, a Wisconsin psychotherapist and board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- a victim advocacy group -- said Miller's decision to stay, even in limited ministry, raised questions about how seriously he took his offenses.

"If you were remorseful, you would not do a job of ministry," he said. "If he has committed felony crimes and hasn't spent a day in jail, what kind of statement does that make to society?"


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