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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A retired Roman Catholic priest at the forefront of the Louisville archdiocese's sex-abuse scandal was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for decades of sexual misconduct against children.

The Rev. Louis E. Miller, 72, pleaded guilty in March in Jefferson County Circuit Court to 44 counts of indecent and immoral practices and six counts of sexual abuse. The 21 victims are now all adults.

Miller took "full moral responsibility" for his crimes and said, "I stand before God to be judged later."

He blamed his crimes on "whatever mental illness I might have had."

"I hope someday I can have your forgiveness," Miller said.

Miller is the first of four priests or former priests who faced criminal charges in the state; he also faces trial in neighboring Oldham County.

He was a priest for more than 40 years in the Archdiocese of Louisville until his retirement from public ministry last year, just before the first wave of child-molestation allegations surfaced.

Miller also is accused of molesting children in 94 of the more than 250 lawsuits filed against the archdiocese since April 2002. The plaintiffs contend the church knew they were sexually abused as children by clergy or others connected with the church, but concealed it and did nothing to stop it.

The archdiocese expects to spend more than $1 million on legal, settlement and counseling costs by June 30, the end of its fiscal year. And it recently announced it was cutting 34 jobs, or about 12 percent of its work force, as well as freezing salaries and slashing its budget by about $2 million.

At his sentencing, Miller apologized to the church and said the archdiocese has always treated him fairly. Miller said it took him "years and years" to recognized he was a pedophile.

Miller said he was willing to meet with his victims or as a group under supervision.

While Circuit Judge Ann O'Malley Shake read the sentence, Miller looked down with his hands clasped and showed no outward emotion.

Shake said she took into consideration the "tender years of Miller's victims" who ranged in age from age 7 to 12 when they were abused. She noted that the victims have suffered for years with anger and depression and other problems.

She noted that the offenses happened in many places in church buildings and at family outings, all of which were places of "presumed safety."

Miller had faced one to 10 years in prison for each count of indecent and immoral practices with another, and one to five years for each sexual abuse count.

Prosecutor Carolyn Cobb said the prosecution would object to any motion for "shock probation" and said that the harm Miller had done could never be rectified.

Shock probation refers to the release of an inmate after a relatively short time if the judge believes the time served has been sufficient punishment.

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