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Pedophile Priest Says Abuse Was No Secret

Louis Miller testifies 3 archbishops knew about molestation

May 23, 2003 | The Courier-Journal

Five days before his sentencing for decades of child molestation, the Rev. Louis E. Miller testified yesterday that three Louisville archbishops knew of his sexual abuse but kept him in the priesthood.

During a daylong deposition that included combative exchanges, Miller also testified that in the early 1990s his therapist told police that Miller was a sexual offender, but police never followed up.

Miller testified in conjunction with 246 pending civil lawsuits that accuse the Archdiocese of Louisville of concealing abuse by Miller and other priests and workers. It was Miller's first extensive testimony since allegations against him became public last year.

His testimony confirmed and expanded on previous revelations about how much the archdiocese knew of his sexual abuse. But he denied that archbishops tried to cover up the abuse, and he took "responsibility for all of it."

Miller said Archbishop John Floersh removed him from two parishes in the early 1960s for abusing children and that Floersh's successor, Thomas McDonough, assigned him to two parishes despite knowing of the abuse allegations.

Miller testified that by the mid-1980s, current Archbishop Thomas Kelly knew of abuse by Miller. Some time before 1990, Miller told Kelly that he didn't feel safe around children and needed better therapy.

The archdiocese previously has stated that its first record of sexual-abuse allegations against Miller came in December 1989.

"He (Kelly) took measures to see to it that that wouldn't continue," Miller said without elaborating. "He didn't put his head in the sand."

Cecelia Price, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Louisville, wouldn't comment on Miller's testimony, citing the archdiocese's policy to not comment on pending litigation.

Miller also testified that on Wednesday he met with Archbishop Kelly to say goodbye and "seek his blessing" because he knew he was going to prison.

Miller, 72, is scheduled for sentencing Tuesday after he pleaded guilty in March to 50 criminal charges of molesting children. Ninety-four of the lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Louisville also accuse him of molesting children between the 1950s and 1990.

Miller said his therapist, Louisville psychologist Dennis Wagner, called the police Crimes Against Children Unit around 1991 and reported the priest "as being one who abused children. We voluntarily did that. &elipse; No one ever followed up from them (police)."

Officer Dwight Mitchell, a spokesman for Louisville Metro Police, said yesterday police were searching to see if they had a record of the call. Wagner did not return a phone message yesterday.

B Y THE time Wagner called police, Archbishop Kelly had removed Miller from parish ministry, required him to see Wagner for therapy, assigned him as chaplain to a retirement home and forbade him from ministry with children, according to the archdiocesan comments and records.

Miller remained in ministry until March 2002, when he retired just before a flood of allegations became public. He is now barred from public ministry.

During the deposition which lasted 10 1/2 hours Miller often sparred with attorney William McMurry, who is representing most of the plaintiffs suing the archdiocese.

Assessing his work as a priest, Miller said: "I did a very excellent job, except for the damn abuse."

Asked by McMurry whether his good works outweighed the bad, Miller said: "God will be the judge. I cannot answer that."

Miller then said that McMurry couldn't either.

"Oh, I can," McMurry said.

Under McMurry's questioning, Miller admitted yesterday that he is a pedophile, in contrast to his denial in testimony in connection with a 1999 lawsuit filed by his niece.

"I DID NOT realize at that time that I was truly a pedophile," Miller contended, saying he realized it later after more therapy.

When McMurry pressed Miller on whether the priest had perjured himself during his previous testimony, Miller replied: "Your badgering's been too much" and stopped the proceeding. He soon returned to continue his testimony, including cross-examination by attorney Ed Stopher, who represents the archdiocese. Miller told Stopher that archbishops provided Miller with counseling since the early 1960s and followed treatment recommendations.

Miller also said he acknowledged his abuse to parents of victims who complained.

Miller disputed McMurry's contention that Floersh should have removed him from ministry and reported him to police in the 1960s after Miller abused children at two parishes. Instead, Floersh made Miller a hospital chaplain, and Miller's immediate supervisor told him not to be alone with children, Miller said.

"There were no other steps taken to protect children that might come to that hospital, is that true?" McMurry asked.

"I guess they felt it wasn't needed," Miller replied.

"And I guess they were wrong," McMurry said.

"&elipse; What steps would you have wanted them to take?" Miller asked.

"Well, turn you over to the police would be a good first step," McMurry said. "Remove you from service entirely would be a good second step, wouldn't you agree?"

But Miller said he believed that Floersh, who is now dead, viewed his sexual offenses as sins, rather than crimes, and instructed Miller to attend a spiritual retreat and seek psychiatric treatment.

"I think he thought it would take care of itself through the spiritual realm," Miller said.

Miller said: " T hings which are illegal weren't even on the books then." When McMurry pressed him, however, Miller said he wasn't denying that his actions were crimes, but that state law did not require child sexual abuse to be reported. Kentucky's first such requirement went into effect in 1964.

MILLER ALSO elaborated on his encounter with Floersh in 1961, when the archbishop removed him from his first assignment as associate pastor at Holy Spirit Church in Louisville. Miller is accused of molesting dozens of children at the church.

In his therapeutic journal, reported earlier this year by The Courier-Journal, Miller offered to resign at that time.

"In my own mind, I did not feel I was worthy to remain a priest," Miller recalled yesterday.

But Miller recalled how Floersh told him: "`Father, you will always be a good priest.' &elipse; He treated me as a spiritual shepherd, and at the same time warned me against such conduct."

During his testimony, Miller's demeanor ranged from contrite to contentious. A t one time he describ ed his offenses as "horrendous" but later cast doubt on several accusations made against him.

"I could have challenged several of those charges, and then we would be hung with jury trials forever," he told McMurry. "Is that what you want?"

Miller said Archbishop McDonough knew of Miller's history before assigning him to work at St. Aloysius Church in Pewee Valley and "warned me not to become inappropriate" with children.

WHEN AN allegation of abuse came up there, "I knew that instant I was finished at that parish," Miller said.

McMurry asked Miller why McDonough placed Miller at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, which had a school.

"He felt that in treatment, I would be able to handle it," Miller said.

At St. Elizabeth, Miller said he was under restrictions not to be with children unless an adult was present. He said he was there for about four years before he relapsed.

Before the deposition, Miller appeared relaxed and upbeat as he entered McMurry's law office at Olympia Park Plaza in eastern Jefferson County, engaging in small talk with lawyers. Miller talked alone with Dr. William Handelman, one of two plaintiffs who attended the deposition.

Handelman told him: "I forgive you, but I can't forget. We need you to help us make sure this doesn't happen again. We need you to be as honest as possible."

After listening to some of the testimony, Handelman said during a break that he believed Miller remained in denial over some of his actions. Handelman, now a Florida cardiologist, is among the victims Miller pleaded guilty to abusing at Holy Spirit Church in the 1960s.


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