Priest Faced Two Abuse Investigations While He Was Police Chaplain

By Deborah Yetter
October 6, 2002

The Rev. Joseph Herp, who was removed from ministry earlier this year after allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s, had twice been investigated by Louisville police for other allegations of abuse - both times while he served as city police chaplain.

In a review of police records, The Courier-Journal found that in both alleged cases investigated by Louisville police - one in 1988, the other in 1990 - Herp was cleared after denying the allegations and remained police chaplain, a paid, part-time position. He also continued to serve as a pastor at two Catholic parishes.

But Herp, 55, resigned in May as pastor of St. Leonard Catholic Church after meeting with Louisville Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly about the 1970s allegations. The Archdiocese of Louisville has declined to release details of those allegations and said the person who made them wished to remain confidential.

At the time, Kelly said in a letter to St. Leonard parishioners that "there have been other concerns expressed to us about Father Herp from this same era." He did not elaborate, and archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price declined to comment further on the matter.

Herp, who also resigned in May from a job as chaplain with the Jefferson County sheriff's department, has since been accused of abuse in two lawsuits against the archdiocese - including one involving the alleged victim in one of the cases investigated by police.

A national victims' advocate says Herp's case raises questions about whether police and church officials thoroughly investigated the allegations and whether action should have been taken sooner to remove Herp from ministry and his police department job.

Doug Hamilton, a former Louisville police chief who was appointed in 1990, abolished the chaplain's job in 1992 as a cost-saving measure. But in a recent interview, he said he would have looked more closely at whether Herp was suited for the job had he known the city-county Crimes Against Children Unit had twice investigated the priest for alleged abuse.

"It would have been a factor had I known about it," Hamilton said.

As chaplain for the Louisville Police Department from 1980 to 1992, Herp associated with the department's top officers, including former Chief Richard Dotson. Dotson lived with Herp temporarily at the St. Ann rectory during an acrimonious divorce.

Herp has not returned calls seeking comment, but Dotson said the priest got no special treatment when he was chief, and he viewed their relationship as professional, not personal. "I never played favorites," Dotson said.

Herp drove a take-home car, had a police radio and was being paid $24,500 a year in 1992 when Hamilton abolished the job.

But he returned to chaplaincy in 1999, after former Louisville Deputy Police Chief John Aubrey was elected Jefferson County sheriff; he hired Herp as part-time chaplain for the sheriff's department at $27,000 a year.

Aubrey, who also was acting Louisville police chief between Dotson and Hamilton, declined to comment about Herp, saying through a spokesman that it would be inappropriate to do so.

Police connections

The two men who have named Herp in lawsuits they've filed against the archdiocese allege they were abused as teens but were reluctant to report their allegations because of Herp's ties to the police department.

"Where's my credibility compared to Father Herp's?" said Kevin Spalding, who alleges in his lawsuit that Herp sexually abused him in 1990 at St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish when Spalding was 15.

The 1990 police investigation of Herp was triggered after Spalding's mother filed a complaint, but it was closed as unfounded after the teenager denied any abuse, according to records of the case. Spalding says now that he doesn't recall talking to police.

John Vandeveer, who also is suing the archdiocese, alleges Herp abused him around 1980 at St. Ann parish, but he never told anyone at the time.

"After my incident with him he told me no one would believe me because he was a priest," Vandeveer said. "I knew he was the police chaplain."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support group for victims of clergy abuse, said the investigations of Herp should have been turned over to outside agencies, because of the priest's close ties to the police department.

Herp's position as police chaplain alone creates the perception he may have received favorable treatment, Clohessy said.

But in an interview, former Chief Dotson said that while he was aware of the 1988 investigation of Herp, a police investigator told him there was "nothing to it."

In that case, a 16-year-old DeSales High School student alleged that Herp had tried to unzip his pants when the boy went to the priest for counseling.

That person is not named in police records and has not filed a lawsuit.

Dotson later closed the case, citing insufficient evidence and saying the allegation did not constitute a crime, according to police records.

In the interview, Dotson said he lived with Herp for about six months in the late 1980s after he and his wife separated and that he paid rent for his room at the St. Ann rectory. Herp was a good chaplain and got no special treatment by police investigating the 1988 allegations against him, said Dotson, who is now head of the Louisville-Jefferson County Crimes Against Children Unit.

Dotson said he didn't know anything about the 1990 investigation of Herp because it occurred in November - three months after he was fired as chief. Hamilton, who became chief in December 1990, said he wasn't aware of the case either.

The 1988 case

Herp had been serving as Louisville police chaplain for eight years in 1988, when officers investigated him for the offense that allegedly occurred at the old St. Ann parish on Algonquin Parkway, where he was pastor.

The 16-year-old reported his allegation to a teacher, the Rev. Michael Greenwell, who reported it to police and to the archdiocese, according to police records.

The records show Archbishop Kelly visited the Crimes Against Children Unit that same day to discuss the allegation against Herp. He appeared with a lawyer from the archdiocese, according to a report by Detective Denis Spalding, who helped investigate the case.

Spalding's report said they had a brief discussion during which detectives told Kelly "our investigation would be conducted as any other investigation alleging any form of sexual abuse."

The following day, detectives met with the boy at DeSales. The boy told them he was sitting on a couch with Herp at the rectory when Herp reached over and attempted to unzip his pants; he stopped when the boy pushed him away. He said the priest did not touch his genitals.

Police then interviewed Herp at the office of Kevin Ford, a lawyer for the archdiocese, according to the police records. Herp told police that "the archdiocese had advised him to have an attorney present during any interview," according to a report by Sgt. Danny Harrell, one of the investigators.

Herp denied the allegations and said that he had merely hugged the youth to console him during a discussion of family problems the boy had experienced.

The case was ordered closed about a month later by Dotson.

"After reviewing the package furnished to me by you there does not seem to be an indication of any impropriety on the part of Father Herp and this letter will constitute the closing of this case," Dotson wrote in a letter to Capt. Phil Turner, then commander of the Crimes Against Children Unit.

The 1990 case

Two years later, in November 1990, police opened an investigation after Kevin Spalding's mother complained to police that her son told her he had stayed overnight with Herp at St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish and she suspected he might have been sexually abused.

The investigation was closed after the boy told police no abuse had occurred.

The boy's name is omitted from the police records, but Spalding said the facts describe his case. He said he doesn't recall speaking with police at the time but says he wouldn't have told anyone about the alleged abuse because he was embarrassed and would have doubted that anyone would believe his word over that of a priest who was police chaplain.

Spalding said he was already in trouble at the time. He had argued with his mother, struck her and run away from home, and his mother had taken out a warrant for his arrest.

Seeking help, Spalding said, he went to a family friend he regards as a grandmother, who lived near and attended St. Elizabeth in the Schnitzelburg neighborhood. The woman asked Herp for his help, Spalding said, adding that the priest offered to let the boy stay with him until he could get the boy to a youth shelter.

When they got to the rectory, Spalding said, there were suitcases piled on the couch, so the priest told him to sleep in his bed.

Spalding said he awoke during the night to find the priest had his hands inside Spalding's underwear and was fondling his genitals. Spalding said he rolled over and stared at Herp, and the priest withdrew his hands and left him alone.

"I laid there that whole night with my eyes wide open," Spalding said. "I couldn't go back to sleep."

Spalding said Herp later took him to the shelter and apologized before dropping him off. "He said he was sorry. . . . He gave me $25 and said, 'Let's keep this between us.' "

The police report says the youth acknowledged staying overnight with Herp but denied any sexual contact. Spalding's mother could not be reached for comment.

Another allegation

In another case involving Herp, a former child-abuse investigator for Jefferson County, now a top official with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has raised questions about the priest's interest in the May 16, 1981, arrest of a Roman Catholic deacon on child sexual abuse charges.

John Rabun, who was then a county social worker and now is the national center's vice president and chief operating officer, recalled that he'd been called out around midnight on May 16 after police arrested Marvin A. Carney Jr., then a deacon at St. Rita parish.

Carney was arrested after police questioned a teen-ager who said he was waiting for Carney, in a car in a parking lot outside an adult bookstore in Louisville.

Although the arrest was detailed in media reports at the time, Louisville police say they cannot locate the arrest slip and there are no records detailing an investigation.

Rabun recalled that the youth, under questioning from him and police, provided information that led police to charge Carney with sexual abuse. But while they were still talking to the youth and his parents, Herp showed up unexpectedly, Rabun said.

"All of a sudden, somebody knocked on the door," Rabun said. "We had the kid with us, and here stands Father Herp."

Rabun said Herp asked to speak to the investigators privately, and in a brief conversation asked them to try to avoid embarrassing the church and not to identify Carney as a deacon on his arrest papers.

Rabun said Herp left, they got a statement from the youth and he went home with his parents.

But the next day, Rabun said, he got a call from a Louisville police officer advising him to forget about the case because the youth had recanted his allegations. Rabun said the officer told him that when the youth arrived home after talking to police, Herp and another priest were waiting to talk to him and his parents.

Rabun said he doesn't remember the name of the officer who called him.

But he said that in the following couple of weeks before the charges were formally dropped, "I got several visits from police officials urging me not to pursue the case." He declined to give their names.

Rabun said he wasn't happy at the time about Herp's involvement or with having to drop the charges but said it appeared there was nothing further he could do.

Rabun recalled finding the youth to be very credible and said investigators typically would seek a second interview with someone who recanted such allegations. But the family had obtained a lawyer who cut off any further contact with the boy, Rabun said.

"My opinion of his credibility never changed," Rabun said.

Carney could not be located for comment.

Herp's defenders

Those who know Herp describe him as an energetic and outgoing priest who worked hard at his parish and as a police chaplain. Ordained in 1973, Herp has served at St. Pius X, Incarnation, St. Ann, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Leonard parishes.

"I don't know what he's accused of, but I've got to respect him for what he did for me," said retired Louisville police Lt. Rick Siclari, former commander of homicide investigations. Siclari said Herp, as police chaplain, came to homicide scenes at all hours to comfort families; he offered personal support when Siclari's wife was seriously ill several years ago.

Robert Glasser, 30, of Louisville, who participated in a teen group at St. Elizabeth when Herp was pastor, said the priest seemed especially dedicated to the chaplain's job and encouraged youths to pursue a career in police work.

"I remember he got us Louisville police shirts with the Louisville police logo," Glasser said. "I never had an encounter with him that was negative."

"After my incident with him he told me no one would believe me because he was a priest. I knew he was the police chaplain."







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