LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They stand convicted of committing terrible sins, but pedophile priests are still being paid by the Catholic church in Louisville.
“I think it’s absurd,” Michael Norris said. “I just don’t understand it.”
Norris is one of Fr. Joseph Hemmerle’s victims, molested at age 11 at camp Tall Trees in Meade County in the 1970’s.
“This man is who I was thought is an extension of God,” Norris said. “That’s what the Catholic church taught me. And here’s God doing this to me. It really messes with your spirituality.”
Denied shock probation this month, Hemmerle’s black-and-white prison jumpsuit appeared in stark contrast to the same colors he once wore robed in the Catholic church.
“All these practicing Catholics should be outraged that, here is this guy twice convicted, sitting in jail for what he did, and he’s still a priest,” Norris said.
The Archdiocese of Louisville said Hemmerle is suspended as a priest, and it hasn’t taken further action as one of his convictions is under appeal.
Only the Pope can remove the status of a priest, but the process starts with the Archdiocese. Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz declined WDRB News’ request for an on-camera interview on the subject.
Far more often than removing a priest for molestation, the Catholic church orders him to a lifetime of “prayer and penance.” That’s the case for Rev. James Schook, convicted in Louisville in 2014.
“Priests who are directed to lead a life of prayer and penance may not exercise ministry, say mass publicly, or administer the sacraments,” said Archdiocese of Louisville Spokeswoman Cecilia Price. “They may not wear clerical garb or present themselves as a priests.”
But they can sill collect a check from the church.
“Priests on prayer and penance receive medical insurance and a reduced salary if not retired or reduced retirement benefits,” Price said.
It’s faith-shaking to some parishioners.
“It’s wrong,” said Carolina Soto, a Catholic who attended mass Wednesday at Cathedral of the Assumption in downtown Louisville.
“It’s more than disappointing,” said Matt Harris, another parishioner. “It’s just sad.”
For Norris, it’s maddening.
“When you are dealing with the Catholic church and all these sexual abuse cases, their first priority is to protect the church and protect the priest,” Norris said. “They could care less about the victim.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville settled a nearly $26 million class action lawsuit in 2003, paying 243 child sex abuse victims. At least three of those accused priests were also given penance and prayer — and paid — until they died: Fr. Robert Dollinger, Fr. James Hargadon and Rev. Edwin Scherzer.
Scherzer was convicted in 2005 and just passed away in August of 2017. His online obituary listed him as an ordained priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville.