Jefferson Man Says Priest Abused Him; Lawsuit Claims That Archdiocese Was Negligent

By Peter Smith
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
April 20, 2002

A Prospect man filed suit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville yesterday, claiming he was sexually abused by the Rev. Louis E. Miller in the 1970s and that the archdiocese knew Miller was a "sexual predator."

Michael Turner, 44, alleges in the lawsuit that Miller sexually abused him while Turner was attending St. Aloysius Church and School in Pewee Valley, where Miller was working in the 1970s.

Turner is the third person to go to court with allegations against Miller in the last dozen years and the first since The Courier-Journal reported Sunday on the previous two suits against Miller, who retired in March.

The suit claims the archdiocese was "negligent in hiring Miller as a priest at St. Aloysius . . . and in failing to properly supervise a known and/or suspected child abuser and in keeping such a sexual predator in the employ of the archdiocese."

It also alleges the church failed to report allegations of abuse to police or to warn parishioners about Miller - arguments that may be key to whether the case can proceed, because people normally cannot sue for alleged injury suffered many years earlier.

Miller retired in March after the archdiocese received a complaint against him - the latest of several it has received over the past dozen years, alleging he abused children in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer for the archdiocese.

All the complaints were from adults referring to alleged incidents that occurred when they were children, Reynolds said.

CLAIMS MADE in filing a lawsuit give only one side of the case.

Miller, who is not named as a defendant in this lawsuit, has referred questions to his lawyer, Frank Radmacher, who did not respond to a phone message yesterday. In past court documents, Miller has denied abusing children.

Reynolds said yesterday he has not yet seen a copy of Turner's lawsuit and could not comment on it. But he repeated earlier statements that the church has no record of receiving complaints about Miller's conduct during the 1960s and 1970s - though he acknowledged records weren't necessarily kept on abuse reports at that time.

Reynolds said Archbishop Thomas Kelly barred Miller from working with children after first receiving a complaint in late 1989. Miller was a resident and chaplain at a home for the elderly until his retirement.

The office of Jefferson County Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said it has begun looking into allegations recounted in Sunday's newspaper.

"We have been contacted by people in the community, and we're checking on those things," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jeff Derouen, spokesman for Stengel, said yesterday. He encouraged anyone with information to contact his office or police. The police Crimes Against Children Unit can be reached at 574-2465.

IN THE 1990s, two people settled lawsuits involving allegations against Miller. A former parishioner at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Louisville sued Miller and the archdiocese in 1990, alleging Miller molested him in 1977 when he was 15. A niece sued Miller in 1999 - but not the archdiocese - also alleging he abused her in the 1970s.

Testifying in the 1999 case, Miller's sister-in-law said she had heard the priest had been transferred from St. Athanasius Church in the 1960s and from St. Aloysius in the 1970s because of alleged misconduct.

Turner's lawsuit states that until The Courier-Journal article was published Sunday, he had no information that the archdiocese might have known of allegations against Miller before assigning the priest to St. Aloysius in 1973.

William McMurry, Turner's lawyer, said that while Kentucky's statute of limitations generally requires lawsuits to be filed within a year of an alleged offense, the revelation in Sunday's story of the sister-in-law's testimony should restart the clock on the statute of limitations and allow the lawsuit to proceed.

McMurry cited a 1998 decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals upholding a verdict of $750,000 against the Diocese of Covington and a priest. The court ruled that the statute of limitations could not protect the diocese because it had concealed evidence of past abusive behavior by the priest.

A University of Louisville legal scholar agreed the Covington case may allow Turner's lawsuit to proceed - if the plaintiff can show the archdiocese concealed information or failed to follow state laws on reporting abuse.

"They would have a pretty decent shot at least of surviving a motion to dismiss and getting their case heard by a jury," said Samuel Marcosson, associate professor at the university's Brandeis School of Law.

THE LAWSUIT seeks unspecified monetary damages from the archdiocese, said McMurry, adding that he hopes the case reveals more information about how the archdiocese handled Miller's situation.

"This case is about the sacrifice of the innocence of children," McMurry said.

The lawsuit comes amid a growing scandal in the Catholic Church in North America and Europe surrounding priests who have molested children. Pope John Paul II summoned American cardinals to a meeting in Rome next week to discuss the issue.

Turner, who owns a construction company, said in an interview yesterday that the alleged abuse has affected him for years.

He said he has particularly struggled since he watched a skit a few months ago about child sexual abuse, conducted for a class for people interested in adopting children.

He said he has had nightmares and trouble sleeping since then, particularly amid news about scandals involving priests in Boston and other cities. He said he is particularly affected by memories of the sights and smells of places where the alleged abuse occurred, such as the rectory basement at St. Aloysius.

In the interview yesterday, he said Sunday's article offered the first strong indication that church supervisors might have known of Miller's past.

Turner, though no longer a Catholic, said he respects many Catholic priests and lay people.

"There are still a lot of priests that do great work that are great men," he said. "The sad thing is to cover up and hide didn't fix anything."


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