Louisville priest who ran summer camp faces sex abuse trial
By Dylan Lovan
November 26, 2016
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Louisville priest is set to go on trial on sexual abuse charges nearly 15 years after allegations first surfaced from a man who said he was molested by the priest at a Catholic summer camp in the 1970s.
The Rev. Joseph Hemmerle will face sexual abuse and sodomy charges at the trial beginning Monday in Meade County, where he ran the boys summer camp for decades.
Hemmerle is facing another trial in April over similar abuse allegations from a second alleged victim who attended Camp Tall Trees as a child.
The first allegations against Hemmerle were brought by Michael Norris in a 2001 letter Norris wrote to Hemmerle and Louisville archdiocese officials. His letter was sent just months before a slew of plaintiffs sued the archdiocese, alleging sexual abuse by dozens of priests. The archdiocese settled a class action lawsuit with 243 plaintiffs in 2003 for more than $25 million, but Norris never joined the suit.
"I've been waiting 15 years for my day in court, and quite honestly I'm just ready to get this over with," Norris, 53, said in a phone interview.
The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged sex abuse victims, but Norris has spoken publicly.
The name of the second victim who alleged abuse by Hemmerle has not been made public. Prosecutors in Meade County declined to discuss the case earlier this week. Norris said he has spoken with the second victim, who also alleges he was sexually abused by Hemmerle at Camp Tall Trees decades ago.
The Archdiocese of Louisville placed Hemmerle on administrative leave after his indictment in 2014, and church officials said they fully cooperated with law enforcement. Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said Hemmerle remains on leave and is not allowed to present himself publicly as a priest. His status will be updated when the criminal cases are finished, she said.
In his 2001 letter to Hemmerle, Norris called on the priest to end non-supervised contact with children and seek counseling to "address your tendency towards pedophilia." An archdiocese official responded in a letter thanking Norris for writing and saying Hemmerle would undergo a psychological evaluation.
Norris said he was unsatisfied with the church's response, so a few months later he reported the incident to police. Hemmerle was teaching at Louisville's Trinity High School at the time but was suspended once police launched an investigation. After months went by and no criminal charges were filed, the church reinstated Hemmerle in June 2002.
The case sat dormant until a second alleged victim came forward in 2014, and Hemmerle was indicted on sexual abuse and sodomy charges based on the allegations from Norris and the other man.
Norris says he was 10 years old when he attended the weeklong camp in 1973. At one point in the week, he contracted a rash from poison ivy and sought help from Hemmerle, Norris said in an interview. Norris alleges the priest brought him to his personal cabin and had him remove his all his clothes, and that's when Hemmerle improperly touched him with his hands and mouth.
Norris, who is traveling from his home in Houston to testify this week, said he was uneasy about removing his clothes for the priest, but "I was taught you do what the priest tells you."
He said if Hemmerle had granted the requests he made in the 2001 letter, he never would have reported it to police.
"I've been waiting a long time for this," Norris said. "Now it's up to the jury whether they believe me or not."
Hemmerle stepped down as director of the camp in 2000 and the archdiocese closed it in 2002.
Hemmerle's attorney, David Lambertus, declined to comment on the upcoming trial.