Retired Priest Pleads Guilty In Abuse Cases As Trial About To Begin

Published: Mar. 31, 2003 at 3:41 PM EST|Updated: Apr. 7, 2003 at 11:01 AM EDT
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(LOUISVILLE, March 31st, 2003, 5:25 p.m.) -- A retired Roman Catholic priest accused of abuse by dozens of plaintiffs pleaded guilty Monday to multiple counts of sexual misconduct as his jury trial was scheduled to begin.

The Rev. Louis E. Miller, 72, of Louisville, pleaded guilty in Jefferson County Circuit Court to 44 counts of indecent and immoral practices and six counts of sexual abuse involving 21 victims. He faces trial on similar charges in neighboring Oldham County in June.

Miller, who has remained quiet in numerous court appearances since the grand jury indicted him in June, sat with his head down and hands clasped as he admitted to abusing each one of the victims who sat behind him in the courtroom.

"I remember these children very well," Miller said as Jefferson Circuit Judge Ann O'Malley Shake read the names of each victim included in four indictments. "I remember fondling these children."

Miller retired from public ministry last year when accusations of abuse became public. Miller is accused of abuse in more than 80 of 214 lawsuits filed in the last year against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, which employed the priest for more than 30 years.

The plaintiffs -- all now adults -- claim they were abused by Miller and other priests as children. They say the church was aware of the abuse but did nothing to stop it.

Miller's attorney, David Lambertus of Louisville, told the court Monday that Miller was pleading guilty to all charges, but he may not remember all details of the incidents if asked by the court.

"He does not deny to any person that he wronged them. He does have definite memory of some of these events," Lambertus said. However, Miller may not be able to tell "in great detail of every single event" because of the time lapse of when the incidents occurred, he said. Most of the abuse occurred in the 1960s and 70s.

However, Miller said he did remember an incident with his niece, Mary Miller of Louisville. Mary Miller charged that her uncle kissed and licked her face in 1972.

"I don't see where that was an indecent or immoral practice," said Miller, whose nephew Mark Miller, also charged him with abuse.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Carol Cobb, lead attorney for the state's case against Miller, countered Miller's contention.

The state can show "that was meant for (sexual) gratification, not affection," Cobb said.

Mary Miller, who left the courtroom wiping away tears, was surprised by Miller's comment.

"He doesn't see that he's done anything wrong, I don't know why I didn't expect that," Mary Miller said.

During his plea, Louis Miller told the court that he had sought therapy on two different occasions for his pedophilia, and that he has been seeing a psychologist who specializes in sexual disorders since 1990.

A 1990 psychiatric report filed with the court last summer said Miller committed assaults every other month during the 1960s and '70s, usually targeting boys 10 to 15.

When the church learned of the incidents, it moved him from one job to another, said the report sent to Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who barred Miller from working with children in 1990 and later assigned him as a nursing home chaplain.

Miller will face one to ten years in prison for each count of indecent and immoral practices with another, and one to five years for each count of sexual abuse. The sentences could run consecutively or concurrently, Shake said.

Lambertus said because of Miller's age and medical condition, "anything more than 20 years in meaningless."

Miller provided the court a list of prescription drugs that he was currently taking, which included medication for blood pressure, heart, arthritis, pain and nerves.

Sentencing was scheduled for May 27.

Several of Miller's victims and alleged victims gathered in the courthouse following Miller's plea. Dozens of plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against the Louisville archdiocese and believe that Miller's guilty plea was "just a start."

"This kind of activity can never happen again," said Andy Corcoran, a plaintiff in one of the suits. "We know and believe that he (Miller) did everything he was charged with but this is still an ongoing process. The church has to be held accountable."

Radio show host Jim Strader of Louisville, another plaintiff, said Miller's plea was "hollow" without the church admitting that it knew about Miller's sexual disorder.

"We want children down the road in the Catholic Church to be protected," said Timothy Baker, a victim in six of the counts to which Miller pleaded Monday.

Two other priests, the Revs. Daniel C. Clark and James Hargadon; a former priest, Bruce Ewing; and two teachers are awaiting trial within the next year in Jefferson, Oldham, Bullitt and Grayson counties. All five have pleaded innocent and were employed by the Louisville archdiocese.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)