A Priest's Troubled Path
14 from 1963 Class Allege Sexual Abuse

By Deborah Yetter
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY)
June 23, 2002

[Note from One survivor's name has been redacted from this page at the survivor's request.]

Dwight D. Eisenhower is in the White House, Dobie Gillis is on TV, and for sixth-graders at Holy Spirit School, life is church, friends and sports.

They ride bikes with their friends to Pookman's drugstore for cherry Cokes - 5 cents each. They attend Saturday afternoon matinees at the Vogue movie theater.

They play baseball in the tree-lined streets of the fastgrowing, suburban neighborhood surrounding the church at the corner of Lexington Road and Cannons Lane.

"Holy Spirit parish was kind of a magical place in many ways," said Bernie Queenan, 53, and a 1963 graduate of Holy Spirit grade school. "It was like 'Leave it to Beaver.' We lived in a very sheltered environment."

"It was a pretty safe haven for all of us," agreed his classmate, Dr. James Jewell, 52, a Louisville physician.

But that haven would be destroyed for some, they now say, by one of the most trusted figures in their young lives - a parish priest.

Queenan and Jewell and other classmates now allege that they and other former Holy Spirit classmates were secretly taken aside and sexually abused by the Rev. Louis E. Miller. Fourteen members of that class have filed lawsuits alleging Miller sexually abused them - making them the single largest group among the 57 adults who have come forward since 1990 - all but two since April 19 - to allege Miller abused them when they were children during his various assignments.

Their innocence ended, they allege, in the sacristy, after confession, in the locker room and in the car, when the man their parents revered would allegedly fondle them or force them to fondle him.

Too scared or ashamed to tell anyone at first, among themselves they adopted secret strategies: Always go into church in pairs; never be alone with Father Miller - if possible.

"That was the best way we had to defend ourselves," Queenan said.

But Miller was skilled, they allege, at isolating youths, and sometimes, they said, the dreaded encounters were unavoidable.

"We were robbed," said [Name redacted], 52, a classmate who now lives in Northern California and is one of the plaintiffs. "I don't think I've ever recovered from that period."

"Things were never the same again," said Dr. J. Boswell Tabler, 52, a Louisville psychiatrist and one of the plaintiffs. "That kind of thing haunts you. It haunted me for years."

Because a statute of limitations prevents the filing of child sexual abuse claims after five years from the accuser's 18th birthday, class members filed suits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, claiming it knew Miller was an abuser and did not stop him. The archdiocese has declined to comment on the lawsuits.

The lawsuits don't detail the alleged abuse. But in interviews, eight of the 14 plaintiffs from the class of 1963 recounted their recollections of what happened.

Some say the experience helped make them a tightly knit group. Many have remained friends as adults, including Queenan and Tabler, who were college roommates.

"There was something about that group," said Frank Viviano, 52, one of the plaintiffs from the class. "We all lived in the same neighborhood, we all played together . . . now that this has happened, we're kind of going through this together."

Wary of the priest

Queenan says he can recall the exact date that he began to feel uncomfortable with Miller. It was June 17, 1960, the eve of his parents' 25th wedding anniversary.

An anniversary Mass was planned for the next day, and Queenan said he recalled thinking he needed to go to confession if he was going to receive Communion.

"I had committed some absolutely awful deed like using a fourletter word or sneaking a cigarette," he said.

So he got on his bike and pedaled to Holy Spirit in hopes of finding a priest. He found Miller, who agreed to hear his confession.

Afterward, he said, the priest approached him and gripped him tightly against him. Miller continued to hold him, breathing heavily, for several minutes before releasing him, Queenan said. "It was really weird."

Queenan said nothing else happened for more than a year, until the fall of 1961. Miller, as was his custom, was calling boys two at a time from football practice into the basement of the church to issue them uniforms, Queenan said.

By then, he said, word had spread among the sixth-graders at Holy Spirit about Miller's alleged sexual abuse, so Queenan stuck close by the other boy when they were summoned.

"Do not leave me," Queenan remembered telling the other boy.

But Miller gave the other boy his uniform first and ordered him to leave, Queenan said. Miller then ordered Queenan to pull down his underwear - purportedly so he could inspect his athletic supporter - and grabbed Queenan's penis and began to handle it, Queenan alleged.

Queenan said he was able to back away when they heard the next two boys entering the basement for their uniforms.

While some might consider the incidents minor, Queenan said, he decided to file suit because some youths suffered more extensive abuse.

"I'm doing this as much as anything to back up my buddies," he said.

One of those buddies was Dr. William Handelman, a plaintiff from the class of 1963 and a physician in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Boys in the locker room knew to not linger when Miller was around, Handelman said. "We'd talk about it in the locker room," he said. "We'd dress in a hurry and get out."

Handelman said Miller cornered him one day in a storage area of the basement where he was to get his football uniform. He said the priest told him to strip to his underwear, then fondled him and forced the youth to fondle the priest.

At first, Handelman said, he was shocked, "like a deer caught in the headlights." But after a second, similar experience, he became angry and decided to tell his parents.

"I was hot," Handelman recalled. "I sat down and talked to my father and said, 'Dad I'm telling the truth. . . .' "

Another classmate, Jewell, alleges he was molested by Miller under similar circumstances.

One day, changing clothes after football practice, Jewell said, he realized he was the only one left in the locker room when Miller approached.

Jewell said there was inappropriate touching, but he can't recall details.

"I don't even know how I got out of there," he said.

Jewell said he never told anyone because he didn't know how to bring it up. "It was something I needed to hide," he said. "It was like I had done something wrong."

Sports-related activities weren't the only times that boys tried to avoid Miller, said Viviano.

Viviano recalls waiting in line in the church basement for Miller to hand out patrol badges and the panic he felt when he realized he was the last one to receive his. Miller locked the door, walked over to the boy and unzipped Viviano's pants, Viviano said.

"I had such terror, I thought I might die," he recalled. "It was such a terror to me to be locked in the basement with this guy."

Viviano said he believes his fear gave the priest pause, because he stopped and let him leave.

"In that one instance, I escaped," he said.

A prime spot for sexual encounters with Miller, Viviano said, was the sacristy - the area in the church where the priests and altar boys get ready for Mass.

In those days at Holy Spirit, Viviano said, four altar boys assisted at Mass. Afterward, one had to remain to clean up. It was the one who stayed who was at risk, he said.

"You had to clean up and turn off the light and then go back through the sacristy, and there's Father Miller waiting for you, and you know he's going to be waiting for you," Viviano said.

"Guys were always trying to con off the job."

One 1963 Holy Spirit graduate alleged to the newspaper that Miller abused him earlier, around the fourth grade.

Andrew Corcoran, 52, a business manager in Northern Kentucky, said he had periodic encounters with the priest over three or so years in which he was forced to fondle Miller. This ended around the seventh grade, he said, when "I had the physical power to push him away."

"I remember one time almost knocking his glasses off," Corcoran said. "I was bigger."

Struggling to be heard

Some plaintiffs say they never told anyone about the alleged abuse out of shame or fear they wouldn't be believed.

They include Martha Weinert, 52, a St. Matthews businesswoman, who told the newspaper she once woke in her bedroom to find Miller - who had been attending a meeting at her home - lying on top of her.

Weinert said she got away and locked herself in the bathroom until he left. She told the newspaper Miller forced her to fondle him at the parish.

"It upsets me more than anything that I never did anything about this," she said.

But some youths eventually did go to their parents - with mixed results.

Viviano recalls attempting to tell his parents, in vague terms, that Miller had molested him. But he didn't know how to articulate sexual abuse, he said.

"My parents would say, 'Father Miller is the best priest we've had here. He's doing wonderful things with the sports department,' " Viviano said.

But others, including Handelman, were able to convince their parents.

"He believed me right away," Handelman said of his father, who was a pediatrician.

Handelman's father and several other parents in 1961 went to Miller's boss, Holy Spirit pastor the Rev. John Vance, with complaints about Miller and persisted until Miller was moved in late 1961 - during their seventh-grade year, the former students said.

"Suddenly he was gone," Tabler said. "It was a nice relief."

Corcoran and Handelman said their parents told them Miller was being sent away for "treatment," though they didn't get details.

The former students say they were shocked to learn recently that Miller had been reassigned to other parishes, where he is alleged to have abused other children.

Now they wait

Members of the class of 1963 who have filed lawsuits are waiting to see how their cases unfold and whether others will follow. Some are convinced there are many more victims among their former classmates.

"I'm aware of other people who are still thinking about" filing a lawsuit, Queenan said.

Tabler said he was recently approached by a former Holy Spirit student from a different class who said several members of that class are thinking about filing lawsuits.

Several of those interviewed for this story said they have cooperated with law enforcement officials in a criminal investigation of Miller.

First Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Harry Rothgerber said an investigation is under way. His office expects to seek felony charges from a grand jury, he said.

Rothgerber said anyone with any information about such cases is urged to contact police or the commonwealth attorney's office.

For the Class of 1963, there is talk of holding another reunion. One held several years ago - before the current allegations became public - was a huge success. Classmates caught up on their friendships, careers and families - but even then, before the lawsuits, Miller's alleged sexual abuse was an undercurrent, several said.

Some have turned away from the Catholic Church and cite their alleged childhood sexual abuse as the cause. Others are active in the church, including Queenan, who is a member of Holy Spirit.

Queenan said the class is still very close. "There's definitely a lot of love there."

And whatever the outcome of the civil cases and criminal investigation, plaintiffs say they believe the exposure of their allegations has been for the best.

"The real value for me in this is that it's coming out in the open and people responsible for this will be held accountable," [Name redacted] said. "It really gives us back some dignity."

The Rev. Louis E. Miller's career and his accusers

All of the people listed have filed suits, alleging the Rev. Louis E. Miller sexually abused them when they were children.

Except for those filed by Mark Delmenhorst and Mary C. Miller, a niece, all of the suits have been filed since mid-April. Delmenhorst filed his suit in 1990 and Miller filed her suit in 1999. Both of those suits were settled out of court.

Only Mary C. Miller and Delmenhorst's suits named the priest as a defendant. All the others have been filed against the Archdiocese of Louisville.

1955-56: Camp Tall Trees, Meade County

Joseph A. Ball Jr. (Suit says Louis E. Miller was a counselor, but archdiocese has no record of that.)

May 26, 1956: Ordained

June 1956-December 1961: Associate pastor, Holy Spirit Church

Julie A. Baker

Timothy L. Baker

[Name redacted]

Michael L. Clark

Andrew J. Corcoran

James B. Corcoran Jr.

Paul Fischer

William Handelman

L. Thomas Hulsewede

James R. Jewell

Ronald T. Landry

Bernard K. Queenan

Robert Andrew Natalie

Vincent Paul Natalie

Martin Robertson

John F. Robertson

Geoffrey C. Schilling

Kenneth L. Schweitzer

Jim Strader

Boswell Tabler

Mark W. Talley

Thomas Carson Torpey

Frank Viviano

Martha (Brotzge) Weinert

How he left: Handelman, Baker and (James) Corcoran Jr. say their parents complain to the pastor. Corcoran's mother says the parents go to the sister of Bishop Charles Maloney for help. Miller leaves the parish shortly afterward and is transferred to St. Athanasius.

December 1961-December 1963: Associate pastor, St. Athanasius

William G. Brown

Michael A. Gnau

Robert W. Hack

Rick L. Huber

Charles W. Loeser Jr.

Stephen M Rowe Sr.

How he left: Gnau and Brown say their parents complain to the pastor. Gnau says that after his father complains a second time, Miller is transferred to SS. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital.

December 1963-December 1973: Chaplain, SS. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital (now Caritas Medical Center)

James L. Boklage Sr.

Bruce W. Stansbury

Donald A. Sullivan

How he left: Miller is transferred to his third parish, St. Aloysius.

December 1973-November 1975: Associate, then pastor, St. Aloysius (Pewee Valley)

William R. Birk

Steve Donlon

Mark S. Gardner

Mark Gootee

Charles A. Hampton

Daniel U. Jennings

James Gregory Klemenz

Donald K. Singer

Kitti Marie Smith

Bruce Taylor

John Thornberry

Michael J. Turner

How he left: Joseph Thornberry, the father of John Thornberry , says he complains to the school principal, two other priests and the archdiocese that his son was abused by Miller. Archbishop Thomas McDonough removes Miller from the parish in November 1975. He has no assignment until March 1976, when he is given two temporary assignments, St. Ann's, Howardstown, and Our Lady, Hodgenville.

Mid-1970s (various settings outside of church, including Miller family gatherings)

Mary C. Miller, niece

Mark A. Miller Sr., nephew

June 1976-January 1990: Pastor, St. Elizabeth of Hungary

Timothy L. Crawford

Timothy S. Dobson

Mark Delmenhorst

James C. Hess

Mark Allen Niemann

James R. Sullivan Sr. (This suit alleges Sullivan was sexually abused by the Rev. Robert Gray, a priest at the former of St. Vincent DePaul parish. He alleges he was abused by Miller when he sought counseling.)

Paul Williamson

Brian S. Woods

Paul Yenner

December 1989: Miller goes to Archbishop Thomas A. Kelly and says Delmenhorst has accused him of sexual abuse. Kelly evaluates Miller, then in January 1990 he restricts Miller from working with children.

August 1990-May 1991: Miller attends St. Louis University for two semesters on "sabbatical," Miller says in deposition later.

April 1991-July 1992: Chief financial administrator, Holy Name Church, Fourth Street, Louisville

July 1992-March 2002: Chaplain, Sacred Heart Village (home for elderly)

March 2002: Miller retires

Students from the Holy Spirit Class of 1963

Jim Strader, known for his trade shows on hunting and fishing, is among the Holy Spirit plaintiffs.

Bernie Queenan, 53, held a photo taken when he was 11 or 12, in which he is at the far right, being hugged by a great-aunt. Queenan said Miller fondled him when he went to pick up a football uniform.

Frank Viviano, who lives in Glendale, Calif., recalls attempting to tell his parents that Miller had molested him, but being unable to find the right words. At left is a childhood photo of Viviano.


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