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Wisconsin SNAP director Peter Isely says what happened in the Mason case fits a pattern consistent with other dioceses across the nation.
"Here's how it goes: When you're caught, the best thing you can do is to admit some of it," Isely says. "Of course, they're all conveniently outside the statute of limitations: That gives you instant credibility. The admission brings you into a network of protection, because your best ally is the bishop; he is your best friend. He can take care of this without it becoming [publicly] known. Because to them, the worst thing that can happen is not a child being abused -- that's not good, but what is infinitely worse is the weakening of the Catholic faith."
Three years after D.K. first got in touch with Burke, the bishop asked him to draw up a settlement proposal. In the document, dated May 23, 2003, D.K. writes: "I do not wish to unduly burden the Diocese of La Crosse, you or any other person.... Therefore, I propose that the Diocese of La Crosse pay directly to me a sum of thirty thousand dollars as a settlement."
In an era when clergy abuse victims were receiving million-dollar settlements, D.K. requested $20,000 to recoup counseling costs, plus another $10,000 for pain and suffering.
"Bishop, I believe that I am acting in good faith in respect to this whole sordid affair," D.K.'s letter continues. "In consideration of this payment I will sign instruments that you may produce that will free the Diocese of La Crosse from any and all liability concerning this issue."
Bishop Burke denied D.K.'s proposal.
"I have reviewed your request for the payment of $20,000, and regret that I cannot do what you ask," Burke writes in a letter dated June 24, 2003. "While I do not doubt the sincerity of your statements to me, I cannot conclude that the Diocese was culpable. However, exclusively motivated by pastoral compassion and not as an admission of culpability on the part of the Diocese, I can offer some assistance with costs of counseling from my Works of Charity account. If you desire to have these resources made available to you, you will be required to sign an agreement in which you agree not to bring legal action against the Diocese in the future."
The offer is almost without precedent, according to Isely. "I'm not saying it hasn't happened in other dioceses, but I've never heard of that," he says. Dioceses will often pay for counseling but maintain tight control over the length and type of therapy victims receive, Isely explains. "But Burke went beyond that. He was like: 'I'll help you with your immediate crisis that you're going through.' He knows, of course, he's got to know -- maybe he doesn't, maybe he doesn't understand how suicidal many of these male victims are -- how serious it is. And you're going to withhold help -- treatment -- until they sign a document?"
Though Isely expresses surprise at the seemingly extortionary nature of the offer, at least one other alleged victim says he received the same sort of proposition from Burke. "They offered me no money, just counseling," the man says. "I just thought: That's ridiculous. Since this happened I've been hospitalized seven or eight times. It's really screwed my life."
Eventually D.K. decided to bypass Burke. "I cannot accept your offer of assistance under the conditions you put forth," he writes in an undated letter from the summer of 2003. "In the past, hush money has been used in some situations, to pay off victims and their families and to avoid having offender priests, and the Church really, from having to openly and honestly deal with the sexual abuse issue."
D.K. says he then called Father Dunklee and demanded to speak with the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board.
Burke declines to comment about the case. Dunklee reiterates his blanket denial.
Nonetheless, D.K. is appreciative of Dunklee's pastoral efforts. "With Bishop Burke, I always felt like: 'How dare you ask?'" he explains. "Father Dunklee seemed to be the only person who when he talked to me was kind of on my side. I felt like with Bishop Burke I was the enemy or something."
On January 19, 2004, Burke offered D.K. a check for $10,495.40. "This offer and this payment to you should not be interpreted by you as an indication that I have confirmed your allegations about Father Mason or that I believe the Diocese was in any way culpable regarding your treatment," Burke writes in a letter addressed to D.K. "This offer is exclusively made as an act of pastoral concern for you... In addition, because of the limited resources I have available in my works of charity account, no other funds will be offered or paid."
Gone was the stipulation that D.K. forgo any future legal action. He accepted the money.
In an early interview with Post-Dispatch reporter Ron Harris, incoming Archbishop Raymond Burke touted his policies for dealing with victims of clergy sexual abuse. His big effort, he said, would be "to encourage people who have an accusation to make to come forward and let us know."