The Archdiocese of Louisville's Cathedral of the Assumption

The Archdiocese of Louisville's Cathedral of the Assumption

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Though it occurred more than 35 years ago, former Jefferson County Attorney J. Bruce Miller said he still remembers the case vividly:

A priest within the Archdiocese of Louisville admitted sexually abusing a child after being transferred here from a parish in another state, where he allegedly did the same thing.

“I was so damn mad,” Miller said in an interview Monday. “I couldn’t believe it.”

But the priest was never prosecuted, and he wasn't removed from the ministry until 2002, when widespread abuse by priests came to light as hundreds of abuse survivors sued the archdiocese and received a settlement of more than $25 million.

This particular case was cited Friday in a 30-page report released by Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, identifying dozens of priests credibly accused of sexually abusing hundreds of children going back more than 70 years.  

While the Archdiocese kept most allegations of abuse within the church, some of the cases ended in monetary settlements involving attorneys representing victims, according to the report prepared by Mark Miller, a former assistant U.S. Attorney and Kentucky State Police Commissioner.

“Perhaps the more notable documents from this type of case involved Archbishop Thomas Kelly's March 9, 1983, and June 14, 1983, memos regarding a priest's admission that he had sexually molested a 15-year old boy,” according to the report. “Based on the law at the time, the incident should have been reported to law enforcement.”

The report said the Jefferson County Attorney at the time – Miller – and his wife, Norma Miller, then the Justice Secretary in the Kentucky Governor’s Cabinet, represented the child and his parents in civil litigation.

In an interview Monday, Miller said he and his wife did not represent the family in civil litigation and the case was properly reported to the authorities.

Miller said the family knew his wife and came to him in his role as prosecutor, asking what could be done.

“The father was absolutely irate,” Miller recalled.

At one point, Miller said, he accompanied the boy's father to a meeting with the priest, Kelly and an attorney for the archdiocese. When Kelly suggested the group pray, Miller said the boy's father got upset.

"I thought the father was going to deck the archbishop. It was close. He let the guy have it," Miller recalled.

According to Miller, the boy's father then said, "We aren’t praying for any a-hole like this guy, and I am out of here."

Miller said the meeting then ended, after lasting about 4 minutes. 

Miller said the priest, who he believes was Rev. Thomas Creagh, admitted the abuse but the family decided against prosecuting him, because Miller could not guarantee the name of the child would not be made public.

“He probably could have been prosecuted, but it was so unusual at the time,” Miller said. “The problem is, at that time, if you prosecuted someone criminally, I’m not sure the name would not have gotten out. The father wanted a guarantee and I couldn’t guarantee it. He (the child) was going to have to testify. …

“There aren’t secret trials in America," Miller said. "Everything I can think of would be done to prevent it, but I can’t guarantee it. It was going to be a major story. I remember telling him, ‘I can’t guarantee Mike Wallace isn’t going to be here next week with a '60 Minutes' camera. It’s the hardest decision you would ever have to make in your life.’”

After the family took a few days to think about it, Miller said the father told him he wanted to negotiate a settlement with the archdiocese to pay for counseling for the child.

Miller said there was no lawsuit and he took no money from the settlement. The father, Miller said, refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

A 2003 story in The Courier-Journal said the archdiocese agreed to pay the family $20,000.

“I could have had him arrested,” Miller said of the priest. “But then you got an arrest. He’s got a hearing. And he’s entitled to confront his accuser and they (the child’s family) were absolutely not going to let the kid testify.”

Rev. Creach remained at St. Albert the Great School in Louisville until 1985, when he left for the Diocese of Venice in Florida. He came back to Kentucky in 1987, where he stayed until he was removed in 2002. He died in 2008.

In one of Kelly's memos, he wrote that he told Creagh that he "had to view this incident in what I regard is an excellent pastoral ministry at St. Albert's, and that it would not be my indication to remove him from office there. The parents could, of course, destroy his ministry and harm the parish greatly if they make public accusations." 

The report released last Friday noted “there was a noticeable absence of remorse on behalf of the abuser in any reports or psychological assessment. Perhaps the abuser expressed remorse, and it was not reduced to a document. In any case, the records contain more documentation about embarrassment and confidentiality than about remorse.”

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.