Accused Priest Recalled As Both 'Saint' and Abuser

By Peter Smith
September 12, 2004

[See also the main article of this feature.]

At his death in 1986, Monsignor Herman J. Lammers was lauded for his work as director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Louisville, presiding over efforts to help refugees, tornado victims and others in need.

But now he is accused in lawsuits of raping, fondling or otherwise molesting 32 children - most of whom were orphan girls. The lawsuits, filed beginning July 15 in Jefferson Circuit Court, accuse the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth of failing to protect children from Lammers, a resident chaplain at the former St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage near Anchorage. The order has denied the allegations.

[Photo Captions: 1) Monsignor Herman J. Lammers, shown in 1976, was chaplain at the old St. Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage. 2) Karen Snyder, who grew up at St. Thomas-St. Vincent, said of Lammers, "As far as I'm concerned he was a saint on Earth and a great man." Photo by Bill Luster, The Courier-Journal. 3) Deborah Hager said that when she was a girl, Lammers would molest her and treat it as a game. She said she was too young to know "what he was doing was totally wrong." By Keith Williams, The Courier-Journal.]

"Father Lammers took our innocence," plaintiff Helen Edwards of Dallas said in an interview.

Deborah Hager, a plaintiff who lives in Radcliff, said that when she was between 6 and 8 years old, Lammers would bring girls into his office for parties, where they could eat snacks, watch his television and dance to music on his stereo.

When she sat on his lap, she said, he would molest her and treat it as a game. She said she was too young to know "what he was doing was totally wrong."

Such allegations shock Lammers' co-workers and some former orphans.

"As far as I'm concerned he was a saint on Earth and a great man," said Karen Snyder of Pewee Valley, who grew up at St. Thomas-St. Vincent.

Snyder said Lammers actually 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."

Margaret Taylor said visits by Lammers, who taught the girls sports like Ping-Pong and volleyball, were among the few good memories she had of growing up at the St. Vincent Orphanage, a separate facility for girls in Louisville before a merger with the boys' St. Thomas Orphanage.

Lammers was "very nice to me," said Taylor, who now lives in California. "I can't say enough good things about him."

"He was just a personable man," added her brother, Richard Boone, who also lives in California, but lived at St. Thomas as a boy.

"All the kids loved him. We dug a swimming pool ourselves, a wading pool, put up summer houses. We'd take the pews out and strip them and varnish them. All that stuff he was involved in. He did the job of keeping it close and everybody happy."

Lammers, whose brother Jerome also became a priest, was born in 1907 and grew up attending St. Columba Church and School in Louisville.

After seminary, he was ordained a priest in 1932 and served at two parishes in the 1930s. He became a historical footnote in 1936, when he gave last rites on an Owensboro scaffold to Rainey Bethea, the last man publicly executed in America.

In 1939, Archbishop John Floersh appointed Lammers director of Catholic Charities and resident chaplain at St. Thomas Orphanage. Pope Pius XII gave Lammers the honorary title of monsignor in 1955.

In his later years, he led the archdiocese's efforts to oppose abortion and to aid unwed mothers.

Margie Montgomery, who has long been active with the Kentucky Right to Life Association, said of Lammers: "He kept his Catholic ideals in the forefront, was very respectful of other people's feelings."

The Rev. Herman Naber, who succeeded Lammers at Catholic Charities, also recalled him as "an upright man" and said he never heard of any allegations of abuse against the monsignor.

Lammers' personnel file does not include any allegations of sexual abuse, although some of the plaintiffs said in their court complaints that they reported incidents involving Lammers to nuns and others in authority.

Monsignor Herman J. Lammers

Born: Feb. 8, 1907.
Ordained: May 21, 1932, Cathedral of the Assumption.
Named monsignor: 1955, by Pope Pius XII.
Died: Aug. 11, 1986.

Career highlights: Director of Catholic Charities, 1939-1976; resident chaplain at St Thomas-St. Vincent Orphanage.

Education: Sulpician Seminary, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.

Civic involvement: Served on various local government advisory panels. Active in anti-abortion movement.


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