Sunday, June 02, 2002

Louisville priest cleared of allegation

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A priest and Trinity High School teacher who was placed on leave in January has been restored to active ministry after being cleared by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville of a single sexual-abuse allegation.

        The Rev. R. Joseph Hemmerle will be able to say Mass and do other public ministry, said Brian Reynolds, chief administrative officer for the archdiocese.

        Archbishop Thomas Kelly will decide whether the Rev. Hemmerle returns to Trinity or takes on a different job, Mr. Reynolds said.

        The action came after archdiocesan officials learned from the Rev. Hemmerle's attorney that Kentucky State Police closed their investigation of an allegation that the Rev. Hemmerle abused a boy at Camp Tall Trees in the mid-1970s.

        Tommy Stiles, a state police detective, declined to comment Friday. The Rev. Hemmerle's attorney, David Lambertus, declined to confirm whether he had heard from the state police and said he has advised the Rev. Hemmerle not to comment as well.

        A Louisville native, Michael Norris of Houston, alleged that the Rev. Hemmerle molested him at the summer camp nearly 30 years ago.

        “My conscience is clear,” Mr. Norris said Friday. “There's nothing more I can do.”

        Mr. Norris said he has no plans to join the more than 100 people suing the archdiocese over allegations by priests and other employees. Mr. Norris said he came forward only to alert church officials and not for money.

        In April, Archbishop Kelly issued a statement praising the Rev. Hemmerle's “long record of distinguished service to this Archdiocese. There is nothing in his record that suggests he could be guilty of this accusation.”

        The archdiocese has said it has received no other allegations against the Rev. Hemmerle, who is in residence at St. Bartholomew Church.

        The Rev. Hemmerle has taught religion at Trinity since his ordination in 1967.

        He has coached wrestling, cross country and track teams, and he directed Camp Tall Trees from 1971 through last year.

        The archdiocese closed the camp this year because of its deteriorating condition as well as plans by Louisville to remake Otter Creek Park, which the city owns.


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