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Abuse Priest's Murder A Mystery

Lexington, Kentucky, police are investigating the murder of a 78-year-old retired Catholic priest and convicted sex offender.

Joseph Pilger was found dead in his home Friday night. An autopsy Saturday found the cause of death to be multiple blunt force injuries, according to a statement from the Fayette County coroner's office.

No arrests have been made.

Pilger's landlord discovered his body after repeatedly attempting to contact him, police said. Pilger apparently was killed sometime between Wednesday and Friday, a police report said.

Pilger's 7-year-old beagle was lying near his body. The dog was taken by friends of his next-door neighbor.

Pilger had lived alone, except for the past month, when a young man in his late teens began staying with him, Pilger's next-door neighbor, Karen Owens, told The Lexington Herald-Leader. Owens said her neighbor "pretty much stayed inside."

Owens said Pilger's car, a white 1999 Buick Century, was missing.

Officials offered nothing else on the death of the man whom neighbors knew as "Father Joe."

One of Pilger's victims, now an adult living in Florida, told the Lexington paper he heard from family members about the retired priest's death.

"It's not what I would have wished for him," said Dan Willett, 57, a convenience-store manager in Orlando. "My feelings are that, unfortunately, he didn't make his peace with God before it was too late."

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington issued a statement Saturday expressing shock at the death.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic and apparently violent death of Father Pilger," Lexington Bishop Ronald W. Gainer said in the statement. "We will pray for the repose of his soul."

Pilger pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three brothers and their cousin in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in western Kentucky. The victims were younger than 15 and serving as altar boys at the parish.

After a plea bargain, Pilger received five years' probation beginning in January 1995.

Earlier this year, Pilger was named in a sex-abuse lawsuit against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. In the suit, Willett claimed he was abused by Pilger in the late 1950s at St. Paul's School in Lexington. The suit was settled.

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