Authorities Haven't Dropped Investigation against Priest

Associated Press
June 13, 2002

State police haven't dropped their investigation of a Catholic priest accused of molesting a child even though officials with the Archdiocese of Louisville said they had and used that as a reason to reinstate the priest.

The archdiocese said it will not change its decision to restore the Rev. R. Joseph Hemmerle to public ministry.

"We made our decision and we are not going to discuss this further," Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer with the archdiocese, told The Courier-Journal.

Meade County Commonwealth's Attorney Kenton R. Smith said he is concerned about the archdiocese's decision to restore Hemmerle because the case "is not closed nor cleared at this time."

Michael Norris, of Houston, has alleged in letters to Hemmerle and the archdiocese that the priest molested him at Camp Tall Trees in Meade County nearly 30 years ago when Hemmerle supervised the camp.

Hemmerle, a popular Trinity High School teacher and coach for 35 years, has maintained his innocence, according to the archdiocese. Numerous colleagues and former students have spoken strongly in his defense.

Archbishop Thomas Kelly has praised Hemmerle's service to the archdiocese and also has said there is no indication he could be guilty.

Smith said he does not know of any evidence of a crime beyond Norris' statement. "However, I am also not aware of any motivation whatsoever for the complaining party to fabricate, which is what you look for."

Smith said he has spoken regularly with detective Tommy Stiles, who is handling the case for the state police. While there are always problems prosecuting old allegations, no one has been cleared, Smith said.

"I have great concern if they're going to take this priest and put him back out there to where he would be in a position for something else to happen," Smith said.

Stiles' supervisor, Lt. Deron Berthold, said the case is being investigated. "We are still interviewing possible witnesses," he said. Berthold did not elaborate, but he did say that no other accusers have come forward.

Under archdiocesan policy, employees are placed on leave whenever a police investigation is pending. The archdiocese put Hemmerle on leave in January when it learned of the investigation. It said later that Hemmerle would be restored if police found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The archdiocese said two weeks ago it was returning Hemmerle to public ministry, saying it had been told by his defense lawyer that the state police investigation had ended.


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