- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

BRANDENBURG, Ky. (AP) - A Texas man testified Monday that he was sexually abused at a summer youth camp in the 1970s by a Louisville Catholic priest who ordered him to strip off his clothes and stand naked on a stool.

Michael Norris testified at a trial in Meade County that the Rev. Joseph Hemmerle pledged to help Norris with a bad bout of poison ivy but sexually abused him instead. Norris says the incident happened in 1973 when he was 10 years old at Camp Tall Trees, about an hour outside Louisville.

Norris, now 53, first accused Hemmerle of sexual abuse in a 2001 letter he wrote to Hemmerle and Louisville archdiocese officials. Norris lives in Houston but grew up in Louisville.

Hemmerle’s attorney, David Lambertus, said Hemmerle denies any abuse occurred. Lambertus said in his opening statements that it’s “impossible for this to have happened.”

“You get to make a giant impact decision on Father Hemmerle’s life,” Lambertus told the jury Monday afternoon.

Hemmerle, 74, faces two counts of immoral or indecent practices. He was indicted in 2014 on sexual abuse and sodomy charges brought by Norris and another victim, who has not been named. The second victim’s case is scheduled to be tried in April.

The charges in Norris’ case were amended to reflect the sexual abuse laws that were on the books in the 1970s, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeremy Logsdon said. Logsdon declined to say the maximum penalty associated with the charges.

Norris testified that while at the camp, he contracted poison ivy all over his body. A friend reported it to Hemmerle, the camp director, and Hemmerle approached Norris and told him to come to Hemmerle’s cabin in the evening when he could treat the rash.

Norris says when he arrived at Hemmerle’s cabin, he was alone with the priest and candles were burning. He said Hemmerle told him to strip off all his clothes and stand on a stool. He testified that Hemmerle began applying rubbing alcohol to his body and Hemmerle touched his genitals, first with his hands and then his mouth.

Norris said he left the cabin soon after but never told his parents about the incident, because he was afraid they wouldn’t believe him over the priest.

“When I was younger, I was taught the priest - when he is up on that altar - is an extension of God,” Norris said. He waited until the late 1980s to tell anyone, he said.

Norris’ 2001 letter was sent just months before a slew of plaintiffs sued the Louisville archdiocese over sexual abuse by dozens of priests. The archdiocese settled a class action lawsuit with 243 plaintiffs in 2003 for more than $25 million, but Norris never joined the suit.

The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged sex abuse victims, but Norris has spoken publicly.

Prosecutors finished presenting witnesses on Monday. The trial continues on Tuesday.

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