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Archdiocese Sued Over Alleged Sex Abuse

Apr 25, 2002 | The Courier-Journal

Two more people sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville yesterday over allegations that the Rev. Louis E. Miller sexually abused them in the 1960s and 1970s.

Three lawsuits have now been filed in Jefferson Circuit Court since The Courier-Journal reported April 14 on the allegations that Miller had abused children. The suits state that the archdiocese knew Miller ''had engaged in sexually deviate . . . contact with minor children.''

Miller has never faced criminal charges, though authorities say they are looking into the matter. Miller is not named as a defendant in the suits filed this month.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Cecelia Price said she could not comment on the pending lawsuits. The archdiocese has said that its earliest record of receiving a complaint against Miller was in 1989, years after the alleged abuse occurred.

Miller retired last month after the archdiocese received a complaint that he had molested a child decades earlier. The archdiocese says Miller was removed from work with children after the 1989 complaint.

In one of the lawsuits filed yesterday, Michael Gnau, 53, of Crestwood, alleged that Miller abused him twice at St. Athanasius School in the early 1960s, when Gnau was about 13.

Kitti Gootee Smith, 39, of Prospect, also sued, saying Miller molested her when she was about 13 and attending St. Aloysius Church and School in Pewee Valley in the 1970s.

Michael Turner of Prospect filed a similar lawsuit last Friday, alleging that Miller molested him at St. Aloysius.

Smith said in an interview that she was abused several times at locations such as the St. Aloysius playground and in the church sanctuary, where she would go to light candles in memory of her late father. ''It has affected every single thing in my life, every single day,'' Smith said, adding she has suffered anxiety and gone through years of counseling.

Smith said she made her final decision to sue Wednesday night, after hearing that U.S. cardinals had not yet decided whether to recommend a ''zero tolerance'' policy on defrocking priests accused of single cases of abuse from long ago.

''I don't get a second chance to see what life is like without being molested,'' she said in an interview.

Gnau, in a separate interview, said that he hopes that ''as a result of the archdiocese being sued that attention is given to all the priests that are possibly abusing kids and (agreement on) zero tolerance.''

Gnau also hopes that the lawsuits help spur a criminal investigation of Miller. ''Just retiring and denying it is not an answer,'' Gnau said.

In past court documents, Miller has denied all allegations of abuse. His attorney, Frank Radmacher, declined to comment on the most recent lawsuits yesterday.

Gnau said in the lawsuit that Miller molested him twice when Miller was a priest at St. Athanasius, from 1962 to 1963. After the first time, Gnau said, he told his father, who said he would talk to another priest.

The second time, Miller forced Gnau into a broom closet and molested him, the lawsuit alleges. Gnau said in the interview that Miller told him at the time that he would have a strong say in whether Gnau could enter DeSales High School, where Gnau had applied. Gnau said in the interview that he again told his father, who was so upset that he kicked an appliance in the family laundry room. His father talked to another priest, and soon afterward Miller was transferred from St. Athanasius, according to the lawsuit. Gnau's father is deceased.

The lawsuit claims that the archdiocese knew Miller had molested children at Holy Spirit Church in Louisville, where he worked before his time at St. Athanasius and at St. Aloysius. It alleges that the church failed to alert law enforcement of the abuse as required by law.

The lawsuits ask for compensation for ''serious mental distress and physical and mental pain and suffering'' endured by Gnau and Smith.

Attorney William McMurry, representing the plaintiffs, said church officials ''need a clear message that the church and bishops are not above the law. The only way to get that message across is to hit what is known to be the richest institution in the world where it hurts.''

In the 1990s, a former parishioner of Miller and one of Miller's nieces settled lawsuits against the priest that alleged past abuse.

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