A retired Roman Catholic priest pleaded guilty today to sexually abusing 21 children.

The Rev. Louis E. Miller, 72, pleaded guilty as his trial was set to begin in Jefferson County Circuit Court on 44 counts of indecent and immoral practices and six counts of sexual abuse. He faces trial on similar charges in neighboring Oldham County in June, plus dozens of civil suits.

Miller sat with his head down and hands clasped as he admitted abusing each of the victims, who included his niece and nephew. "I remember fondling these children," he said as the judge read the names of the victims.

Miller, who retired last year after the accusations became public, also is accused of abuse in more than 80 of the 214 lawsuits that have been filed in the past year against the Archdiocese of Louisville. The plaintiffs -- all now adults -- say the church was aware of the abuse by priests but did nothing to stop it.

A 1990 psychiatric report filed with the court last summer said Miller committed assaults every other month during the 1960s and '70s, usually targeting boys 10 to 15.

When the church learned of the incidents, it moved him from one job to another, said the report sent to Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who barred Miller from working with children in 1990 and later assigned him as a nursing home chaplain.

Sentencing was scheduled for May 27. Miller will face one to 10 years in prison for each count of indecent and immoral practices with another, and one to five years for each count of sexual abuse. The sentences could run consecutively or concurrently.

Two other Louisville priests, a former priest and two teachers are awaiting trial within the next year in five counties. All five have pleaded not guilty.

The Rev. Louis E. Miller, right, in court with his lawyer, David Lambertus. He admitted abusing 21 children.