The local press described him as the ultimate Vatican insider, a conservative who was said to follow papal decrees minutely. His hard-line stances often spilled over into the eccentric: He'd pulled his diocese out of Church World Services' annual Crop Walk because the agency advocates birth control. He'd criticized J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of children's books. He'd spearheaded a controversial $25 million shrine in La Crosse honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. Most remarkably, he'd ordered priests in his diocese to deny Communion to Catholic politicians who supported euthanasia or abortion rights.
One controversy, however, appeared to have missed Burke entirely: the clergy sex-abuse scandal, which for two years running had rocked the moral underpinnings of the Catholic Church.
While other dioceses reeled amid thousands of allegations of abuse by priests, the Diocese of La Crosse had recently reported that from 1950 to 2002 a mere 10 out of a total of 705 clerics had been found guilty of sexual misconduct -- a rate of 1.4 percent. By contrast, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops reported a national average of roughly 4 percent during the same time period. All told, only 31 allegations of clergy sexual abuse had been substantiated in La Crosse. Only three of those cases had made headlines in Wisconsin. One involved a non-diocesan priest, Timothy Svea, who was part of a religious order (see accompanying sidebar); the other two priests are dead.
Burke, it seemed, had tended his garden nicely in La Crosse and was well poised to minister to the fallout of the scandal in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Whereas his predecessor, Justin Rigali, had drawn fire for ignoring victims of abuse, the incoming archbishop was tidily insulated from the problem. So much so, in fact, that when St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Ron Harris asked him to name the most pressing issue facing the Catholic Church here, Burke replied, "How to organize our parishes and our Catholic schools."
But some members of Raymond Burke's former flock paint a far different portrait of the erstwhile bishop of La Crosse. If cases of clergy sex abuse were few and far between, they say, it was because Burke was a master at keeping a lid on them. Several victims who claim they were abused by priests in La Crosse tell Riverfront Times they were stonewalled by Burke, who declined to report their allegations to local authorities. And while some of his fellow church officials nationwide were reaching hefty settlements with victims, Raymond Burke was unyielding in his refusal to negotiate with victims' rights groups. He declined to make public the names of priests who were known to have been abusive, and he denied requests to set up a victims' fund. Most strikingly, Riverfront Times has learned, while bishop in La Crosse Burke allowed at least three priests to remain clerics in good standing long after allegations of their sexual misconduct had been proven -- to the church, to the courts and, finally, to Burke himself.
His critics say Burke's ability to conceal the diocese's dirty laundry was abetted by Wisconsin's unique civil code, which makes it virtually impossible for someone to sue the church for the actions of an individual priest.
"He stands with his fellow bishops in Wisconsin as having had the ability to just rebuke and ignore our victims," says Jeff Anderson, an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota, who specializes in clergy abuse cases. "He has a long history of making pastoral statements that they care, that they want to heal, that they want to help. They are very long on words, but very short on actions."
"We don't exist, for him," seconds Peter Isely, a Wisconsin leader of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "Loyalty to the church is of the highest order for him, and his response to victims' claims has been lethargic and slow and reluctant and bureaucratic and impersonal."
Then again, if success is measured in money saved and avoidance of scandal, Raymond Burke possesses a sterling record. At a time when dioceses are reaching million-dollar settlements with individual victims and filing for bankruptcy, Burke reported in January 2004 that between 1950 and 2002 the Diocese of La Crosse paid out a grand total of $15,807.38 to victims seeking counseling for clergy sexual abuse.
It was in May of 1971 that B.V. first met the man she says sexually abused her. She was nine years old, and her family had traveled 45 minutes to the small town of Hewitt, Wisconsin, to attend a relative's wedding. While at the wedding, her parents befriended Father Raymond Bornbach, pastor of St. Michael's Parish. (At their request, victims in this article are not identified by name.)
"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."
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."
"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.)
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.
The watershed decision made it virtually impossible to sue a Wisconsin diocese for its conduct regarding an individual priest's actions -- one of the few ways in which abusers become publicly known and dioceses are held accountable. Victims may still sue individual priests, but rare is the lawyer who'll take a case against a defendant who has taken a vow of poverty.
"Burke has been effectively insulated from accountability," says St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson. "He was operating in a state where there were no effective legal remedies: You can't sue them."
Of course, abuse victims may seek criminal charges against a priest, but the allegations must be presented within the statute of limitations, which for sex crimes against minors in Wisconsin generally means taking action before the victim reaches age 35.
It was the statute of limitations that doomed a lawsuit Anderson brought against the Diocese of La Crosse in 1991. In that case, Jane Y. Doe v. the Diocese of La Crosse, the plaintiff alleged that when she was fourteen years old she was sexually abused by Father Thomas Garthwaite, who was then pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Marshfield.
"[The] Diocese knew or should reasonably have known that Defendant Father Thomas Garthwaite suffered a serious significant psychiatric condition requiring professional treatment and was unfit for placement as a parish priest," reads Anderson's original complaint filed in La Crosse County Court. "Defendant Father Garthwaite regularly and repeatedly sexually abused the Plaintiff. The sexual abuse occurred, among other places, at the rectory and on the grounds of the Defendant Sacred Heart Church, and occurred during counseling sessions. Defendant Father Garthwaite repeatedly told the minor Plaintiff that she was a devil and was responsible for the sexual contact.... Father Garthwaite severely beat the Plaintiff."
Today at age 55, Doe is unflinching in her description of the alleged abuse. "Tom Garthwaite abused me in the confessional. We were having sex on the altar in the church. He was putting the host inside my vagina, and eating it out," she says during an interview at her home in central Wisconsin. "[Garthwaite] made me come to the confessional and tell him how sorry he was that I took a man of God and caused him to sin. Then he made me suck him off. He would hold my head to his penis -- to his belly -- and he would ejaculate in my mouth and say, 'Swallow it, bitch.' Then he would tell me that I didn't do enough penance and it was still my fault.
"Burke knew about all this stuff," Doe says. "In 1995 I told him about Tom."
When Doe's suit against the diocese was rejected by the court in the early 1990s, Burke was working in Rome. But Doe says she was the first alleged victim of clergy abuse to meet with him after he became bishop in 1995.
The alleged abuse left lasting scars on Doe's psyche; her psychotherapist, Daniel Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota, diagnosed her with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But Carlson would later note in an unrelated correspondence, "I have always found her to be a reliable and believable witness to her own past trauma."
Nonetheless, soon after Doe's first meeting with the bishop, Burke received an alternative analysis for Doe's condition. "For the last six months, [Jane Doe] has shown symptoms that I cannot explain on a purely psychological basis," wrote Medford, Wisconsin, psychologist Joseph F. Roe in a letter to Burke dated September 3, 1996, which was supplied to Riverfront Times in a bundle of documents and correspondence. "This patient needs someone to assess whether or not she requires deliverance prayers." In a follow-up letter dated April 15, 1997, Roe again appeals to the bishop: "I would like to be able to refer her to someone who would be qualified to discern whether or not she is possessed."
Burke declines to comment about the case. But judging from his letters, it appears he obliged Roe's request. In a letter dated June 17, 1998, Burke writes to Gerry Peterson of Family & Children's Service, a private nonprofit agency in Minneapolis: "Before granting the permission for an exorcism, according to the proven practice of the Church, I require a competent psychiatric or psychological determination of the person's condition. For that purpose, Ms. [Doe] has been referred to you. When your psychological assessment has been completed, I ask that you provide me with the pertinent records and conclusion, so that I may make a determination regarding a possible exorcism. I am certain she will sign a release to permit this disclosure. Enclosed is payment in full for the above required treatment."
Apparently there was a misunderstanding. Peterson was in fact running group-therapy sessions for victims of clergy sexual abuse, and when Burke discovered the therapist was not examining her patients for demonic possession, the bishop balked. In a letter dated July 27, 1998, Burke writes to Peterson: "It was my understanding that [Jane Doe] was seeing you for purposes of conducting a psychological assessment related to potential demonic possession. I was not aware that you would not be providing those services.... I don't recall agreeing to pay for group therapy.... I do intend to obtain a psychological assessment for Ms. [Doe] in the above mentioned sense. However, if that is not possible through you or your agency, then I would kindly ask you to return the payment made so that it can be assigned for the purposes it was intended."
Doe, who provided Riverfront Times with copies of the correspondence, says she was never evaluated for demonic possession. While Burke won't comment about the specific incident, he does say he is not opposed to the practice. "[If] I thought there was some question of a diabolical influence on the person causing the person distress, or that person had become involved or indicated to me that he or she had become involved with Satanic activity, then exorcism -- there are various rites in the Church to combat the influence of Satan and evil spirits," the archbishop says. "Those could be properly used for the spiritual good of the person."
In the coming years Burke met with Doe on multiple occasions. Their correspondence, often combative, occasionally tender, is marked by numerous letters from Doe and the occasional reply from Burke. "Over the years I have come to respect you not just as a Bishop but as a compassionate 'pastor of souls,'" Doe writes in a letter dated December 14, 2001. "When you told me you were 'sorry' that made a huge difference in my recovery. You didn't just say it once, but you said it again."
This brief rapprochement accompanies a formal claim of clergy sexual abuse against Father Thomas Garthwaite. In the document, Doe requests back payment from 1966 to 2001 in the amount of $25,000 per year. In support of her claim, she cites two notes contained in her lawsuit, which she allegedly received from Garthwaite.
The first, from December 1966, reads: "Hello Baby, My number is still in the phone book -- all you need to do is dial. I'll take you up on the offer you made in the hospital. I did not at the time think [illegible] grab all that subtlety. Nothing wrong with me that a [illegible] would not cure -- yours only! I need with you a night of Love[,] Tiger."
The second note, which Doe claims is a response to a letter she'd written Garthwaite, is dated July 20, 1984, and reads: "It makes me glad that you're not so bad as you were at fifteen. You did not know at thirteen. Tiger."
In August 2002, more than seven years after Doe first approached the bishop, Burke agreed to help with her counseling costs. In a letter dated August 19 of that year, he appears to accept her claims of abuse: "As I have stated before, I am deeply sorry for any harm that has come to you from any priest, especially form [sic] the Diocese of La Crosse. I have written this to you and stated it to you personally on many occasions, and I am happy to write it once again. I have studied the documents which you have sent to me. I do not question your veracity."
Over the course of the next year, the diocese reimbursed Doe roughly $10,000, from a fund for works of charity. Garthwaite, meanwhile, remained listed as a retired priest in good standing. In 2003 his name was quietly removed from the roles of the Official Catholic Directory. Neither Burke nor the diocese would comment on his whereabouts or status.
Doe requested multiple times that Bishop Burke hand over her allegations to the diocese's Child Sexual Abuse Review Board. Burke refused. In a July 15, 2003, letter to Doe, he writes: "Regarding Father Garthwaite, as you know, he has been removed from ministry. Given the fact that he has already been removed from ministry, it is not necessary to present your case to the Review Panel. The Review Panel is only used in those cases in which there is a question of whether or not a priest ought to be removed from ministry. If that has already occurred, no review is necessary or possible."
The bishop's reasoning appears to contradict the "Child Sexual Abuse Policy and Procedures of the Diocese of La Crosse," which Burke himself had composed a year earlier. According to Article 10 of that document, "If the accusation is not admitted, the matter will be referred to the Diocese of La Crosse Child Sexual Abuse Review Board."
It is possible, of course, that Garthwaite admitted guilt. At any rate, in an evident change of heart, Burke informed Doe a month later that he was in fact sending the matter on to the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board, "to see whether the members judge it fitting to speak with you personally."
According to one member of the board, Doe's file has yet to arrive. The board member says the panel has received only three cases from Burke. Two of them involved priests who had died; the third was the recently investigated case of B.V. and Raymond Bornbach.
"There were no allegations brought to us formally on Garthwaite," the board member says. "Like I say, the ones we have, have all been against deceased priests. Bornbach is the only living priest that has come before the review board."
In a written response to a series of questions, Father Lawrence Dunklee, vicar of priests for the Diocese of La Crosse, tersely refutes the board member's claim, calling it "untrue" and asserting that the diocese has adhered strictly both to the criteria set out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to Burke's own policy on sexual-abuse claims.
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.
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."
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."
By his own reckoning, Burke has met with every victim in St. Louis who has requested an interview. He concedes that he has not met with SNAP's St. Louis-based executive director, David Clohessy. "My approach has always been that I deal directly with victims -- or, alleged victims -- and not through third parties," Burke says.
Thus far Burke has opted not to set up a victims' fund for the Archdiocese of St. Louis and has no plans to make public the names of local priests against whom allegations of sexual abuse have been substantiated.
"My thinking has always been that the diocese repeatedly and through various organs of communications invites victims to come forward," he says, then corrects himself: "Alleged victims to come forward. That's the policy I follow, and I don't see that any particular good is served by publishing people that have been accused. I think that all happens in a natural way, according to legal processes. What we need to do is to make it abundantly clear that the church wants to hear from all the people who have allegations. That's the best way to approach it."
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