Sunday, June 09, 2002

Priest target of 48 suits

Allegations claim abuse

By Lori Burling
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — During four decades of work in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, the Rev. Louis E. Miller seemed to be a respected pastor. He conducted Mass and provided counseling, officiated at wedding ceremonies and organized youth activities. He supported youth sports leagues and visited classrooms within the Catholic community on a daily basis, according to parishioners.

        But in recent weeks, dozens of men and a few women — including a nephew — have come forward with a different picture of Father Miller, alleging he sexually abused them when they were children and members of five parishes where he worked during his career.

        Amid the allegations, Father Miller, 71, has retired and lives at a retirement home for priests in Louisville. He is at the center of an internal investigation within the Louisville archdiocese and a criminal investigation of sexual misconduct with minors, according to police and the local prosecutor's office.

        Plaintiffs in the suits say Father Miller's case is a prime example of the archdiocese covering up complaints of sexual misconduct by priests. Instead of disciplining Father Miller, the diocese reassigned him to another parish, the plaintiffs complain.

        Father Miller is accused of sexually abusing minors in 48 lawsuits since mid-April. The lawsuits filed against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Louisville — the corporate name for the Archdiocese of Louisville — claim the archdiocese was aware of the sexual misconduct but did not take appropriate disciplinary action, under both church law and state laws regarding sexual abuse.

        The suits accusing Father Miller are among 119 lawsuits against the archdiocese that accuse a bishop, several priests or former priests, one teacher and one ordained deacon. Two of the priests have resigned.

        The scandal has put the bishop of the Lexington diocese on leave from his pastoral duties while the church investigates allegations made in three lawsuits. Bishop J. Kendrick Williams has denied the allegations against him in the lawsuits filed in Louisville but took leave in accordance with diocese policy.

        Father Miller also has denied all allegations. His lawyer, Frank Radmacher, would not comment on the pending lawsuits or investigation.

        Some of the lawsuits accuse Father Miller of abuse as early as 1960 at his first parish after being ordained in 1956.

        Bernard Queenan, 53, of Louisville, claims Father Miller sexually abused him on two occasions when he was 11. The alleged incidents occurred while Father Miller was associate pastor at Holy Spirit Church and School in 1960 and 1961.

        “He should have been defrocked,” Mr. Queenan said during a recent telephone interview with The Associated Press. “When they moved him to another parish he became brazen — bold. He said "I can get away with this.'”

        Mr. Queenan's is among 19 lawsuits that claim abuse by Father Miller during his tenure at Holy Spirit from 1956-61.

        “I'm not vindictive, but if some of these priests go to jail it will send a message that this is a criminal act,” said Mr. Queenan, who is now attending services at St. Aloysius after a 20 year hiatus from the church. “If I get money from this lawsuit, I'm liable to write a check and give it right back. I don't want to hurt my parish. I just don't want any more children hurt.”

        Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly has said the archdiocese is reviewing complaints of sexual misconduct within the last 20 years. Asked about the past trend of reassigning priests after receiving complaints of sexual misconduct, Archbishop Kelly, said he believed past officials could have handled the situations differently.

        While at Holy Spirit, Father Miller began a youth football league and visited classrooms at the school to encourage boys to join the altar boy program. Mr. Queenan said he was abused by Father Miller on two different occasions — one while he was gathering equipment in the church's basement for football practice. Several others allege they were abused while they served as altar boys at Holy Spirit.

        “The priest was essentially God to an 11-year-old,” Mr. Queenan said. “I lived a sheltered life. I was in a nice east-side neighborhood, I barely knew what sex was. At first, we thought if Father Miller did it, it must be all right.”

        Mr. Queenan eventually told his parents about the alleged abuse, but they didn't believe him or that Father Miller would do those things, he said. Soon afterward, Father Miller disappeared.

        “One day he was just gone,” Mr. Queenan said. The kids at the church assumed Father Miller was put in a hospital or removed from the parish for the things he was accused of, he said.

        But in fact, the archdiocese reassigned Father Miller to St. Anthanasius Church and School in 1961, where he was associate pastor for two years. Six men have claimed they were sexually abused by Father Miller and their parents reported the incidents to another pastor at the church. The pastor agreed to “look into it,” according to the suits.

        From 1963 to 1972, Father Miller was reassigned as chaplain at Sts. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital, now Caritas Hospital. One plaintiff accuses Father Miller of sexually abusing him while he was an altar boy. Two others claim they were abused when they were patients. The three men claim by this time, the archdiocese was aware of prior sexual misconduct by Father Miller and he should have not been working with children.

        In 1972, Father Miller was transferred to St. Aloysius Church and School. He served as associate pastor for three years. Thirteen of the suits against the archdiocese claim abuse by Father Miller when he was assigned to St. Aloysius.

        Kittie Marie Smith, 39, alleges she was abused several times throughout the fourth, fifth and sixth grades. She said the alleged abuse included inappropriate touching, hugging and Father Miller placing her on his lap. Ms. Smith's grandparents lived across from the church and volunteered at the church for more than 30 years.

        “If I saw Father Miller, I would act like I didn't remember what had happened — he would too,” Ms. Smith said in an interview. “I was an easy mark, I was introverted. I was the weak one and the other kids were the same way,” she said.

        Ms. Smith said she told clergy members about the abuse, but she never named Father Miller until the recent allegations against priests that have surfaced in the last several months, both locally and across the nation.

        The current pastor at St. Aloysius, the Rev. Vincent Schweizer, said he has acknowledged the allegations against Father Miller, but does not know any of the circumstances regarding the incidents.

        “I've mentioned it in the pulpit because it is a terrible thing,” Father Schweizer said. “As a whole church we realize it's sinful and a crime. But no one in our congregation knows of these incidents. These cases are very old.”

        In 1990, Father Miller left St. Elizabeth to become pastor at Sacred Heart Village, a retirement home. He remained pastor there, and was a resident until his retirement in March.

        Georgiana M. Hayes, 83, of Sacred Heart Village said most residents of the retirement complex do not believe the accusations.

        “He was a very good priest. Everybody loved him here,” Ms. Hayes said in a telephone interview.


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