Louisville priest found guilty of sexually abusing child at Meade County camp

By Katrina Helmer
November 29, 2016

[with video]

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Louisville priest accused of abusing a boy at camp was found guilty Tuesday of sexually abusing a child in the 1970s.

The jury came back around 5 p.m. Tuesday after deliberating for about two hours. In the verdict, the jury found Fr. Joseph Hemmerle "inappropriate touching" involving a child under the age of 15.

And after hearing more deliberation, the jury came back around 6:45 p.m. with a recommendation of seven years in prison.

"All of the evidence that presented to the jury ... that was available to the Catholic church back in 2001, and they chose to ignore it," said the victim, Michael Norris. "I just pray to God there was not another child that was hurt by this man for the last 15 years."

Norris said in court Monday that Fr. Hemmerle inappropriately touched him when he was at a camp in Meade County and that instead of treating his poison ivy like the priest promised, Fr. Hemmerle abused him alone in the priest's cabin.

Fr. Hemmerle denied it ever happened, and all the defense's witnesses say it never could have happened.

The defense brought seven witnesses to the stand Tuesday, including a priest who worked with Fr. Hemmerle at Camp Tall Trees along with five former campers and counselors and Fr. Hemmerle himself.

The defense focused on asking how the camp was laid out and what the camp rules were. All the witnesses testified campers were never out alone, especially at night.

They all said the medicine, including anything for poison ivy, was administered in the infirmary, never alone in Fr. Hemmerle's cabin.

When Fr. Hemmerle took the stand, he said he doesn't remember Norris at all.

As the prosecution cross examined Fr. Hemmerle, Norris' lawyer asked him why he would not call a boy's mother or take him to a doctor if he had poison ivy on his genitals.

Fr. Hemmerle said he didn't see a need.

"If he pointed to his rear end or his genital area, I would say, 'do you want me to put the Calamine lotion on or do you want to?'" Fr. Hemmerle recalled. "Sometimes they would say you do, or sometimes I'll do it. And I'd say 'go into the bathroom, close the door, and do it.'"

Fr. Hemmerle was facing nine counts of sodomy and sexual abuse in this case. The Archdiocese of Louisville put Fr. Hemmerle on leave after the accusations surfaced in 2014.

"I would encourage anyone else who has been hurt by this man to come forward, because he needs to be held accountable for what he's done," Norris said. "I know I'm not the only one." 

Fr. Hemmerle will be sentenced on Feb. 9. He is out on bond until then.

"It's been my motivation from the start to get this guy off the streets," Norris said. "Keep him away from children, as well as let other victims know that you can stand up to these people."


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