Immaculate Deception

Some dirty little secrets followed Archbishop Raymond Burke from Wisconsin to St. Louis

"After that wedding he called my mom and asked to spend some special time with my sister and I," B.V. writes in a handwritten statement delivered to diocesan officials on September 22, 2003.

Her mother agreed, and soon Bornbach was traveling far outside his parish to pick up the girls and take them for drives along central Wisconsin's rural two-lane roads.

B.V. alleges that during the drives Bornbach would pull over at outdoor rest stops and ask her eight-year-old sister to get out of the car. "She would sit nearby on a rock, while in the car he would have me sit next to him[;] he would rub his hands up and down my thighs," B.V. writes. "He would always kiss me on the lips and he smelled of cigar breath. He would stick his tongue in my mouth."

The Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, the 
diocesan seat of La Crosse.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman, the diocesan seat of La Crosse.
In an undated photo, Father Raymond Bornbach 
poses with B.V. and her newly purchased bike.
In an undated photo, Father Raymond Bornbach poses with B.V. and her newly purchased bike.

According to the statement, a copy of which B.V. supplied to Riverfront Times, the abuse continued for more than a year, becoming progressively more intense. Eventually, B.V. alleges, Bornbach brought her to his house, took her upstairs to his bedroom and offered her a rosary before molesting her. "[He] asked to see the scar on my left arm and side where I had been burned as a child," she writes. "He removed my dress and rub [sic] my chest and laid me on the bed, he then laid on top of me and started to hump up and down and rub his body on mine."

Bornbach didn't go any further, B.V. states. He was interrupted by his housekeeper. When the bedroom door opened, she writes, "he jumped up and told her we would be right down."

Afterward, B.V. recalls in her statement, Bornbach took her to a local hardware store and bought her a bike. "[It was] my 1st ever bike," she writes. "It was purple."

The statement was penned nine months after B.V. came forward with her allegations in a January 6, 2003, letter to then-Bishop Burke. "They told Bornbach to get an attorney and not to talk to anyone," B.V. says during an interview in her central Wisconsin home. "So when I called, I asked if I was supposed to get an attorney, too. They proceeded to tell me that if I got an attorney, all communication with them would cease."

It was the beginning of what became for her a painful eighteen-month saga. "I was really naive in thinking that once they received this letter they would right away do something with this guy," B.V. says today. "Bishop Burke protects his own."

Archbishop Burke declines to comment about specific instances of sexual abuse, but he defends his record and his "open door" policy for victims of clergy abuse. "I have a policy, both in La Crosse and here, to meet personally with those who are making allegations, and then to follow very carefully the protocols that have been established by church law," Burke said during a telephone interview with Riverfront Times that also was attended by archdiocesan attorney Bernie Huger and archdiocesan communications director Jim Orso. "My response was always pastoral. I wanted to meet personally with the victims, or alleged victims. I met with them as often as they wanted."

Initially B.V. wanted four things from the diocese: She wanted Bornbach stripped of his collar. She wanted his name released to the public. She wanted to meet her alleged abuser face to face and she wanted to meet with Raymond Burke.

"From day one I asked to speak with the bishop. Almost every time I talked to these people I asked how come I wasn't talking to the bishop," B.V. says. "How come something wasn't being done?"

Instead of meeting with B.V., the bishop appointed a liaison to meet with the alleged victim. When B.V. asked if her therapist could attend the liaison's initial fact-finding interview, Burke agreed, though it went against a policy on child sexual abuse he'd set out in 2002. He stipulated two conditions, however, in a letter dated May 6, 2003. "The interview will be confidential. Therefore, no recordings or notes may be made or taken," he writes. The second stipulation: "You agree that the interview is part of an internal Church process which may not be disclosed, compelled to be disclosed, or used as evidence in or as a basis for any non-Church action."

B.V. balked. She wasn't ready to tell her story to a stranger, and she canceled the meeting. "You have to be ready," she says. "Some days you don't want to talk about it, other days you do."

But the diocese wasn't waiting around. Unbeknownst to B.V., Burke had passed the matter off to the Diocese of La Crosse Child Sexual Abuse Review Board, a six-member group of church and lay officials -- including the diocesan attorney -- whose duty it is to review allegations of clergy sexual abuse. So B.V. was surprised to receive a letter from the board on August 28, 2003, warning, "If we do not hear from you by Monday, September 15, 2003, we will assume you do not wish pursue to [sic] the matter and the case will be closed."

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