Convicted priests still getting pensions and medical benefits

Published: Oct. 10, 2017 at 8:48 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 10, 2017 at 10:20 PM EDT
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Father Joseph Hemmerle (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Father Joseph Hemmerle (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Louisville area priests convicted of molesting children in a court of law are still getting money and benefits from the Catholic Church.

What message is it sending?

Victims of priest abuse maintain that's a question parishioners should be asking their Catholic church leaders, to make sure their children and others are protected.

Priests, like Father Joseph Hemmerle, may deny heinous acts against children. "I'm innocent of all these charges," Hemmerle told a judge after being convicted by a Meade County jury.

Victims say that's what makes them so dangerous.

"As far as I'm concerned, the guy is a huge threat to other children," said Hemmerle molestation victim Michael Norris. Norris recently found out that because the crime occurred when he was 11, before 1980, the old rules apply and Hemmerle will be eligible for parole in 2018.

"I think it's absurd," Norris said. But he contends what's more absurd is that even though Hemmerle is a twice convicted pedophile, the Archdiocese of Louisville hasn't begun the process to remove him.

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Louisville tells WAVE 3 News that's because Hemmerle is appealing one of the counts. Convicted priests put on Prayer and Penance by the Archdiocese will also get their pensions and Medicare supplements.

What is Prayer and Penance?

It means a modified punishment due to old age and weakened physical condition, which most convicted priests are in by the time of their convictions. On Prayer and Penance, one may not exercise ministry or present themselves as priests.

But victims wonder what's to stop them from acting as a priest in another city or state.

"They need to live up to their obligations and protect the children," said Cal Pfeiffer of the Archdiocese. Pfeiffer is a member of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Norris said it wouldn't happen anywhere else. "If I had an employee that had sexually abused someone at work, they would have been fired on the spot," he said. "We would have would distanced ourselves from them."

He wants to know, "why is the Catholic church is going to keep this guy around?"

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A priest convicted of a crime and getting a pension is upsetting to Jeff Koenig, a victim of Father Daniel Clark and also to Pfeiffer, a victim of Father Louis Miller.

Miller testified in court back in 2003 that Archbishops knew of his abuse, but let him continue as a priest.

Koenig said of convicted priests getting the pension and benefits, "They shouldn't get any of that, because they violated the trust of the Catholic community, they violated the children of the Archdiocese and therefore they shouldn't be eligible for any of it."

The abuse survivors say allowing this also hurts good working priests in the church.

As for Norris, he says he hopes the parole board will listen to him. Even though he lives in Texas, he promises to come back for the Hemmerle hearing.

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