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By Forrest Berkshire
Landmark News Service
The pastor of St. Francis and Holy Cross is on administrative leave following an accusation that he molested a young boy in the 1970s.
Parishioners of the churches received a letter Friday from the Archdiocese of Louisville stating an individual had accused Father Joseph Hemmerle of sexual abuse.
Brian Reynolds, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Louisville, confirmed Friday that Hemmerle was on leave and that the church was in the process of turning the matter over to law enforcement.
Reynolds said the church had heard “secondhand” that an accusation was coming, but was not notified until Thursday. Reynolds said Archbishop of Louisville Joseph Kurtz met with Hemmerle the day the accusation was received, informed him of the accusation and placed him on leave.
The letter to parishioners stated the actions by the archdiocese conformed with its policies, which includes placing the accused on a leave of absence, outreach to the person making the accusation, reporting the accusation to civil authorities and conducting its own internal investigation.
This is the second time Hemmerle has been accused of sexually abusing young boys in the 1970s when he served as a camp director for Camp Tall Trees in Otter Creek Park in Meade County.
Michael Norris came forward in 2001 and accused Hemmerle, who was then a teacher at Trinity High School, of abusing him in the 1970s while Hemmerle worked at the summer camp for boys.
Thursday’s letter to parishioners noted the previous accusation, and said after months of investigation in that case, neither the church nor police could substantiate the accusation and Hemmerle subsequently returned to the ministry.
Reynolds said the previous allegation against Hemmerle could play a part in the current investigation. Reynolds said the Roman Catholic Church approaches allegations of abuse different than it did in 2001.
“Since those days we have become very strict in putting in place these policies,” he said.
“We realize that this is a painful situation, and we want to support you during this time of uncertainty,” the letter, signed by Kurtz, told parishioners. “As more information becomes available, we will be in touch about opportunities to address your concerns and questions.”
On Friday, Holy Cross parishioners were in a state of shock following the news.
“I never even dreamed or thought this man would be accused of something like this,” Marcella Bartley said.
Bartley said while she was well aware of the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church a decade ago, she was not aware that Hemmerle had been accused previously.
“It’s something you hear all the time,” Bartley said. “But you always think ‘Never ours.’ ”
Bartley said she understood the claim against Hemmerle was only an accusation, but said the news would be painful for the small church, which brings in about 100 people for Sunday morning Masses.
Geraldine Fogle, who has been a parishioner for more than 80 years, said she had known of the previous allegation and that it had not been substantiated.
“I just thought it was all over with,” Fogle said. “Since he’s been here, I hadn’t heard anything about this. I liked him as a priest.”