Immaculate Deception

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

"I called them immediately," she says. "[I] told them, 'You can close the case, but it will never be closed for me.'"


At age 89, Father Raymond Bornbach now lives in a humble single-story home in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Diabetes and a recent operation to replace his aortic valve have restricted his movements. Nonetheless, he continues to put on his Roman collar and visit patients at nearby St. Joseph's Hospital. During a recent interview, he confirmed that he still draws a pension from the church. He also is still listed in the Official Catholic Directory as a retired priest in good standing. He denies ever engaging in any sexual misconduct and describes his relationship with B.V. as "best friends." (When asked by the sexual review board about the abortive assault at the priest's home, Bornbach's housekeeper, with whom he still lives, also denied the incident occurred.)

Jay Bevenour
Victims who claim they were abused by priests in his 
former diocese in La Crosse tell Riverfront 
Times they were stonewalled by Raymond Burke, 
who declined to report their allegations to local 
authorities.
AP/World Wide Photos
Victims who claim they were abused by priests in his former diocese in La Crosse tell Riverfront Times they were stonewalled by Raymond Burke, who declined to report their allegations to local authorities.

It took years of therapy before B.V. finally mustered the strength to bring her allegations to the bishop of La Crosse. What she did not know, however, was that she was not the first to contact Burke regarding Raymond Bornbach.

In a letter dated March 26, 2001, another alleged victim of clergy abuse contacted by Riverfront Times wrote to Burke, stating: "I know I have talked to you about Fr. Raymond Bornbach before, and I thought when you retired him it would take care of the problem of his dirty little hands and his filthy mouth.... But it has not since he still goes to the St. Joseph [sic] Hospital in Marshfield, and visits sick people," the letter reads. "He still goes on the psych unit and tells women there that 'Jesus loves them and he does too.' When he was visiting [illegible] there he not only told her that but he was also touching her breasts and putting his tongue in her mouth.... I know what he did to her because she told me right after it happened." (The letter writer, who supplied Riverfront Times with a copy of the correspondence, blacked out the name of the alleged victim at St. Joseph's.)

The letter writer goes on to detail other instances of alleged abuse by Bornbach, before concluding: "Bornbach even wearing the collar is such a disgrace to all good priests. I'm surprised the other priests don't strip Bornbach of his collar."

As with all allegations of clergy abuse, Burke declines to discuss specifics. "Whenever an accusation is brought, no matter what the status of the priest was, it was thoroughly investigated," he says. "The priest was confronted, and it was thoroughly investigated: That's my policy."

The diocese may well have investigated Bornbach, but any such records are strictly shielded from public view. Nonetheless, at least one other alleged victim cited in the letter says she was never contacted by investigators in relation to Raymond Bornbach.

As the months dragged on, B.V. became increasingly frustrated with Burke's inaction. "It was pointless to talk to the diocese," she says. "I called one of [the members of the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board] and said: 'I want a meeting.'"

It was not until B.V. contacted the review board that she was finally afforded an interview with Bishop Burke, on January 10 -- a full year after she'd stepped forward. Her husband went with her.

B.V. says that during the meeting Burke promised he'd make a decision about the Bornbach matter by the time he left for St. Louis. "We said, 'You leave on January 24th, that's all over the newspapers. We know when you leave. Are you going to be able to make a decision in four days?' He said, 'Yes, I will definitely call you and let you know what we've decided,'" B.V. recalls. "Of course, January 24th came and went with no word from Burke."

Last week B.V. received a letter from the diocese informing her that the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board had substantiated her claim and that appropriate action would be taken.

"We recommended that action be taken against Father Bornbach," says one board member, who spoke on condition that his name not appear in print. "[Although] at his age we were told laicization would probably not take place, but it would be recommended that he no longer act or appear with a Roman collar as a Roman Catholic priest."

B.V. credits the board for investigating her claim and believes that had she not contacted its members, nothing would have happened. "This man is a rock," she says of Burke. "He is not moving. He knows his laws, and he knows he's protected. The law protects the church. They don't have to do anything about these people. Nothing. And this bishop knows that."


"The law" derives from a 1995 Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision in the matter of Pritzlaff v. the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In that case, Judith Pritzlaff sued the archdiocese in 1992 for $3 million, arguing that an affair she'd had with a priest in 1959 had ruined her marriage. The state's highest court upheld a lower court's finding in favor of the archdiocese. The justices held that a court of law cannot determine whether a church has been negligent in hiring or supervising its priests. The relationship between a bishop and a priest is part of religious practice, they reasoned, and therefore a bishop's decision about an individual priest's fitness for ministry is fundamentally a religious decision. To rule on such a matter, the justices found, would unduly entangle the courts in religious practice.

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