11 May 2014
More than a decade after the Rev. Joseph Hemmerle was cleared of a single allegation of sexual abuse at a summer camp in the 1970s, a new allegation has led the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville to place him on leave as pastor of two Marion County parishes.
According to a May 8 letter from Archbishop Joseph Kurtz to parishioners, Hemmerle was placed on administrative leave after the archdiocese was “contacted by an individual who reported that he had been sexually abused by Father Hemmerle in the 1970s.”
The archdiocese has opened an internal investigation, reported the accusation to the commonwealth’s attorney in Meade County, where the abuse was alleged to have taken place, and counseled the accuser to contact authorities, officials said.
“We realize that this is a painful situation, and we want to support you during this time of uncertainty,” Kurtz wrote. “Please keep Father Joe and all victims of sexual abuse in your prayers.”
Hemmerle, reached by phone at his parish Sunday night, declined to comment.
Kurtz noted this was the second accusation involving the priest, who is from Louisville.
In 2002, while he was working as a teacher at Trinity High School, Hemmerle was also put on leave after another man alleged that he’d molested him at Camp Tall Trees, in Otter Creek Park, in the mid-1970s.
A state police investigation ensued. But “neither the Archdiocese nor the police was able to substantiate the accusation, so Father Hemmerle was able to return to ministry,” Kurtz wrote in the letter.
Hemmerle, a native of the California neighborhood who attended the old St. Benedict Catholic Elementary School, taught religion at Trinity after his ordination in 1967, the Courier-Journal reported in 2002. He also coached wrestling and track teams, and directed the now-closed boys’ camp from 1971 until about 2001.
Since 2003, after being allowed to return to the ministry following the first accusation, Hemmerle has served as pastor of Holy Cross and St. Francis of Assisi, both near Loretto, Ky., archdiocese officials said.
According to an archdiocese website, the two churches share one pastor and serve about 1,100 parishioners.
Since the early 2000s, when high-profile cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests began to spread across the U.S. and spark large lawsuits, the Roman Catholic Church has sought to respond more vigorously to such allegations.
Archdiocese officials said the accusation was received Thursday. Following the organization’s Sexual Abuse Policies, Hemmerle will remain on leave as pastor pending the investigation.
A story in the Kentucky Standard newspaper in Bardstown on Sunday reported that parishioners had expressed shock and disbelief at the allegation.
Catholic officials have vowed to keep them informed.
“As more information becomes available, we will be in touch about opportunities to address your concerns and questions,” Kurtz wrote.
Reach Chris Kenning at (502) 582-4697. Follow him on Twitter at ckenning_cj