Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Not Forgetting Cardinal Burke as Philadelphia Story Unfolds: Making the Connections

When I wrote about Cardinal Raymond Burke and Fr. Andrew Hamilton two days ago, John Shuster posted a valuable comment in response to my analysis.  Shuster writes,

When Burke was in St. Louis, he welcomed publicly-identified predator priests from around the country to live in his archdiocese.  Prendergast in Ottawa has the same track record.  We feel that Sartain in Seattle will do the same given his recent ordination of the troubled Father Flores who is now doing hard time for child rape in an Illinois pen.  What is it about high ranking prelates who so brazenly take those who commit sex crimes against children unto themselves?  Richard Sipe's website has pictures of Burke's extensive clerical wardrobe with details on how much it all costs.  And then there's Jesus...

As we look at Burke in his resplendent (and exceedingly expensive) clerical costumes, it's important to remember his history of dealing with priests abusing minors.  When John Paul II promoted Burke to the position of prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court within the Catholic church, which hears cases of bishops accused of malfeasance, Peter Isely of SNAP noted that, in his years as bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Burke had "cleared" a higher percentage of priests accused of abuse than any other bishop in the nation.  His rate of "clearing" accused priests in La Crosse was six times higher than the national average.

One of his own priests, Fr. James Connell of Milwaukee, sought to blow the whistle on Burke by noting that Burke created standards in La Crosse that effectively abolished the norms of the Dallas Charter of 2002, by raising the bar to a level that made it exceptionally difficult to prove that an accused priest had abused a minor.  In Connell's view, Burke's behavior placed children at risk.  

And this pattern of "clearing" abused priests is, of course, right at the heart of the Philadelphia story now, where it appears diocesan officials may have deliberately withheld pertinent information from members of the diocesan review board, resulting in decisions to keep priests in ministry when abuse charges made against  them were credible--decisions the review board may have made on the basis of skewed and partial evidence.  It is not without pertinence to note that Burke came to St. Louis to succeed Cardinal Justin Rigali as Rigali went to Philadelphia.  St. Louis was the only single diocese in the U.S. that John Paul II visited during his papal tenure, a privilege granted to St. Louis that, this document on the St. Louis archdiocesan website boasts, was given to that diocese because of John Paul's friendship with Rigali, who previously worked in Rome and helped select bishops--something Rigali's friend Burke now does, as a kingmaker for U.S. bishops in Rome.

Burke's behavior as an overlord who has no obligation to account to the underlings whose money clothes him in his resplendent regal garments does have a human price, however.  In 2004, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest of the La Crosse diocese, Brenda, spoke about this human price to a reporter in La Crosse.  This survivor, Brenda, noted that, when she went public with her story of having been repeatedly raped by Father Raymond Bornbach when she was a nine-year old girl, she asked to see Burke, then the bishop of La Crosse, to discuss what had happened to her.

He refused to meet her face to face.  Finally, two weeks before he was to leave to take the position of bishop of St. Louis, he granted her an audience.  Brenda asked that Bornbach's case be reviewed by the review board of the La Crosse diocese and his name be made public.  Burke told her he would get back to her about this before he left for St. Louis.

He left two weeks later and she did not hear from him.  She never heard from Burke again.  Burke left La Crosse with a policy in place that did not permit the release of names of credibly accused priests to the public.  Bornbach did eventually face the diocesan review board, which found Brenda's allegations credible.

What the princes of the church like Cardinal Burke do as pastors, while robing themselves in splendor, has a human price.  For those who are interested, the full story of that human price, in the case of the Brendas of the world, is well told by Malcolm Gay in this 2004 Riverfront Times [St. Louis] article entitled "Immaculate Deception" reviewing Burke's sordid history as a pastor in La Crosse, vis-a-vis handling of abuse cases (and see this overview, as well).

John Shuster's comment notes that Richard Sipe's website has a gallery of pictures of some of Burke's most outrĂ© costumes, with information about just how much these costumes cost.  At this link, you'll find links on Sipe's website both to a photo gallery of Burke's fabulous clerical couture, and an article by one "Huguccio della Chiesa" entitled "The Cost of Looking Fabulous," with details about the price tags for the chic gloves, dazzling hats, resplendent lace and silk, and good, old-fashioned Catholic bling Burke enjoys sporting to impress us and remind us of his importance (and our obligation to obey) in Christ's scheme of things for church and world.

Hint: a family of five could eat--and well--for a month, with the price of those chic red gloves girlfriend His Eminence is rocking in the ecclesiastical fashion-plate snapshot of John Paul and Benedict's restorationist "reform of the reform" above.

But when I look at those gloves, in addition to thinking about their price, I keep thinking about Brenda, and that promise Burke made as her pastor, as the chief pastor of the flock of the La Crosse diocese, to do something about her pain and suffering, and about children who continued to be placed in harm's way by his policies designed to protect priests accused of abuse and not the children they were abusing.

And I can't help thinking, God help me, that the gloves are designed to hide dirty hands every bit as much as to display an overlord's power and glory.

P.S. I do intend soon to comment on Archbishop Diarmuid Martin's valuable analysis of the abuse crisis in his recent Marquette lecture--analysis that tells the truth in ways that go well beyond anything an American bishop has said about the crisis.  And in light of that lecture, I am also intending to post something about two other stories good readers of this blog have brought to my attention.  A bit pressed for time today, as I prepare a lecture I'll be giving tomorrow--and also distracted as I try to find a doctor to attend to a medical thing, a task made more difficult by my lack of health insurance and the apparent disinterest of some doctors in dealing with patients without coverage.

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