Immaculate Deception

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

Burke seconds the diocese's stand. "I find that a bit amazing," the archbishop says of the assertion that only three cases were supplied to the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board. "I cannot comment on individual cases, but I can simply tell you this: Whenever there was an accusation, a full investigation took place."

In 1975 D.K. enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and took a work-study job as a janitor. At the time, Father James E. Mason was leading the campus ministry at the university. D.K.'s relationship with his girlfriend was in trouble, he says, and he often sought the priest's counsel. When the romance finally ended, Mason asked the young man to move in with him. D.K. accepted.

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 
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 was not the first time D.K. had met the priest; he'd held the same custodial job while a junior in high school. At that time, D.K. says, Mason had made sexual advances. "He started really pressing the issue with me -- a lot of hugging and that sort of thing," D.K. recalls.

Nonetheless, D.K. says that when he returned to the university as a student, he didn't avoid Mason. "I thought that I was pretty special to be Father Mason's friend," he says. "In some ways I kind of felt sorry for him, you know? He had a drinking problem, and he'd always told me about his problems.

"Especially after I broke up with my girlfriend, I confided in him and that kind of thing, and he took advantage of that and made it a sexual thing," D.K. goes on. "He was always trying to push me into having sex with him, and for some stupid damn reason I let him touch me several times in the groin. It was all pretty bizarre. Looking at the whole thing after having been through counseling for a number of years, now I can see just exactly what happened: Father Mason wasn't my friend; he was grooming me for sex. He got so aggressive one time that he came in in his underwear and started wrestling with me and sticking his tongue in my mouth. I was freaking out about it and everything. He was trying to sexually assault me, is what he was doing. I fought him off. I punched him pretty hard a few times just to get him to stop."

D.K. says he left Wisconsin soon after the incident. He worked as a miner in Colorado and South Dakota, married and started a family. It wasn't until he entered therapy in 2000, he says, that he really began thinking about what Mason had done. "I thought it was my responsibility -- once I understood how all this stuff works -- because at least in my mind, he had no doubt done this to other people," D.K. says. "I got hold of [Bishop Burke] in 2000 and told him about it. I got a feeling there's quite a track record on this guy, and maybe no one's spoken up about it."

What D.K. did not know was that in 1981 Father James Mason had been found guilty in Wisconsin's Chippewa County Court of sexually assaulting a student who'd come to him for counseling.

"Mason directed that [the student] seat himself on the couch and remove his shirt," reads the criminal complaint, filed July 24, 1981. "Mason then maneuvered him into a position where he was laying on his back with Mason lying on top of him. The student stated further that Mason kissed and hugged him during this meeting. The student stated that he did not give Mason consent to have sexual contact with him."

Mason's sentence was withheld, and he was placed on eighteen months' probation.

Neither Burke nor the current administration of the Diocese of La Crosse will comment specifically on the status or whereabouts of James Mason. But according to the Official Catholic Directory, the priest moved in 1981 from Chippewa Falls to the Roncalli Newman Parish in La Crosse, where he remained until 1986. From 1987 through 1992, Mason is listed as "Absent on Sick Leave." From 1993 to the present, he is listed as "On Duty Outside the Diocese."

Mason did not return phone calls requesting comment for this article, and diocesan officials would not comment on in what capacity he now serves his diocese, or whether he continues to draw a salary.

As with Garthwaite, Father Lawrence Dunklee says D.K.'s version of events is "untrue." Adds Dunklee in his written statement: "Specific cases are confidential and will not be disclosed or acknowledged."

According to several diocesan priests, Mason now counsels drug users in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He is said to have undergone "voluntary laicization" earlier this year -- roughly three years after D.K. first presented Burke with his claims.

In his correspondence with D.K., Burke appears unwilling to admit that the diocese might be at fault. "I have met with Father James Mason, as I indicated to you, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. I shared completely with him what you had reported to me," the bishop writes in letter dated May 6, 2003, which D.K. supplied to Riverfront Times. "Father Mason does not remember the specific incidents which you reported to me. He indicated to me that his memory of that whole period of time is not good because he was suffering, at the time, from a very severe alcohol addiction which involved daily, heavy drinking. As a result, many of his actions are simply blacked out from his memory."

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