State Police Continue to Investigate Priest
Archdiocese Had Said Case Was Dropped

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville]
June 13, 2002

Kentucky 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.

Despite that information, 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, said last week. He reiterated that position in a phone call Tuesday.

Meade County Commonwealth's Attorney Kenton R. Smith said he is concerned about restoring 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, and 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 State Police Detective Tommy Stiles, who is handling the case. 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 in an interview that 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 normally placed on leave whenever a police investigation is pending, Reynolds has said. The archdiocese put Hemmerle on leave in January when it learned of the state police investigation. It said later that Hemmerle would be restored if police dropped their investigation and 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.

Reynolds said the archdiocese tried several times to contact the state police but never spoke with the agency before making its decision. Instead, the archdiocese relied on information from David Lambertus, Hemmerle's attorney, who has refused to comment.

Reynolds declined to say who Lambertus might have spoken to with the state police.

"I'm not going to get into this triangle about who said what to who," Reynolds said. "Based on the information we have, Father Hemmerle has been returned to ministry, and an assignment is pending."

But Smith said he has never spoken with Lambertus and doesn't know who did.

Berthold said the same, adding that he is unaware of church officials ever calling his state police post in Elizabethtown and that he does return calls. He said that while he cannot speak of the specifics of an investigation, the public - including an employer - is entitled to know whether an investigation is open or closed.

Berthold said Stiles would not have told anyone it was closed because Stiles "is the one who has the open file." Stiles referred a request for comment to Berthold.

Neither Smith nor Berthold would discuss specifics of the investigation, but they said when it is closed, that would be a matter of public record. Berthold would not predict how long an investigation would last.

"So much more gets continually brought up," he said. "Just because today we may not have something that the prosecuting attorney feels comfortable with taking before the courts, with so much being brought up daily, you don't want to close it while this stuff is so active."

Norris, who stands by his allegation, said he is not surprised to hear that Hemmerle was returned to duty before the investigation was closed, saying he believes the archdiocese has not followed its policies on handling sexual-abuse allegations in his case.

Reynolds has said, however, that the archdiocese has followed its policies all along. He has declined to spell out the steps taken in this case.

"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."



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.