Alleged sex abuse victim speaks out after priest indicted

By Whitney Harding
September 10, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Coming from a large Catholic family in Louisville, faith was a big part of Michael Norris’s childhood.

"You know you're raised to believe that the church is good and the church is there to help people and you know to take care of you; know the people in need,” he said. “That's not what I've seen from the church."

As a boy in the 1970s, Norris went to Camp Tall Trees which was a Catholic church camp that used to be located inside Otter Creek Park in Meade County. What happened there would shape rest of his life.

“I was sexually abused 40 years ago when I was a child and it took me a long time to come to terms with the abuse,” he shared.

Norris alleges that his abuser was Father Joseph Hemmerle, a priest who worked at the camp for about 30 years.

Even after he stopped going to the summer camp, Norris would have to face the man he says abused him again. Hemmerle taught one of Michael’s classes at Trinity.

Hemmerle does not face any allegations of wrongdoing at Trinity.

Norris kept what happened to him bottled up for decades. Finally, in 2001 he decided he needed to come forward.

“So I approached the Catholic church in September of 2001,” he said. “I wrote them a letter basically telling of the abuse that had occurred. At the time all I wanted them to do was get this guy out of circulation, get him away from children and get him into counseling because he has an issue. That’s all I wanted.”

When that didn't happen Norris filed charges with Kentucky State Police and an investigation began.

“They were never able to get Hemmerle to cooperate with the investigation,” Norris said. “He refused to be questioned so there was not a lot the state police could do.”

Hemmerle was not charged and the church put him back into the ministry. KSP told WHAS11 that the case was closed but not forgotten. So, when new allegations were made against Hemmerle this year, Michael’s case was reopened, leading to Monday’s indictments.

Norris said in the 12 years between 2002 and now, he'd really put everything behind him. He'd even gone and talked to Hemmerle and was able to release a lot of anger. When Michael heard about the new investigation, his response wasn't what he or others expected.

“It's not a feeling of happiness when I heard that he was going to be indicted,” he said. “It was sad. It's not something to be happy about. It's a sad situation.”

Norris said the goal is the same as 12 years ago; getting Hemmerle out of circulation within the church.

“I’m not attacking the faith,” he explained. “What I have an issue with is the institution – the people who run the church and how they handle things. They have changed. I’ve seen a change between the way they are handling it now versus the way they handled it when I came forward 12 years ago; but, they aren’t where they need to be.”

Lastly, Norris hopes this new case can give him some closure.

“People who doubt the victims who come forward don’t understand the level of courage it takes for us to do this,” he said.


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