SNAP takes list of concerns to Archdiocese

Published: Dec. 8, 2016 at 8:58 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2016 at 7:04 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A week after a now suspended Louisville priest and former Trinity High School teacher is found guilty of inappropriately touching a child, SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is asking the Archdiocese of Louisville not to push for a light sentence for Father Joseph Hemmerle.

SNAP took its written concerns to the Office of the Archdiocese on Thursday. While SNAP representatives feel the archdiocese has improved education about abuse when it comes to adults around children in churches and schools, they still believe when it comes to priests, there's an instinct to protect at all costs.

"Here in Louisville, we've had over 30 some-odd priests who have been credibly accused, we've got around four in jail at this time," said SNAP member Cal Pfeiffer.

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Now, that Father Joseph Hemmerle has been convicted, they want the Archdiocese to be proactive and find out if other victims could be out there.

"Very seldom does an abusive priest only abuse one or two children," Pfeiffer said. "There were hundreds and hundreds of children at Camp Tall Trees."

Children who are now adults like Michael Norris.  Norris spoke with WAVE 3 News after Father Hemmerle was convicted.

"I had been waiting 15 years for my day in court and as you saw I finally got my day in court."

Norris referenced 15 years because that's when he came forward to report Hemmerle's abuse at the Meade County camp in 1974.

In 2001, the church said it conducted a review, but only re-assigned Hemmerle. Prosecutors brought charges against the priest after a second person came forward in 2014.

"The Archdiocese had all the same information, why didn't they pull him out of service much earlier?" Pfeiffer asked.

SNAP member Jeanette Westbrook agreed saying, "They should be doing what they're supposed to be doing under the law, a duty to warn and a duty to report."

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SNAP believes the same thing happened with other convicted priests like Father Jim Schook.

SNAP commends the church for its abuse education program for volunteers, teachers and coaches, but says when it comes to priests, there are still blinders. Parishioners WAVE 3 News talked to going into services told us off camera, they think the church is trying and improving, but could do more.

One parishioner told WAVE 3 News, "They still have their heads in the sand."

Also on SNAP's list? Joel Wright, a seminarian in Ohio convicted of child abuse. An undergrad in Kentucky, SNAP wants to know if he was ever at a catholic college in the Commonwealth.

The Archdiocese did not provide on camera comments, but did say they would not be involved in trying to influence sentencing for Father Hemmerle as SNAP fears. They also stated they're committed to victim outreach and urge all victims to come forward and contact police.  As for Joel Wright, they have no knowledge of where he attended college but say he was not in the Louisville Archdiocese.

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