Burke Vows to Fight Abuse in Move to St. Louis

Stevens Point Journal [St. Louis MO]
December 3, 2003

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Wisconsin bishop tapped Tuesday to head St. Louis' archdiocese pledged to bring to Missouri his open-door approach to victims of clergy sexual abuse, drawing cautious praise from an advocacy group that pushed for greater access.

Hours after being named by Pope John Paul II as St. Louis' archbishop-elect, outgoing La Crosse, Wis., Bishop Raymond Burke said "I would not tolerate any abuse of a child by a priest," calling such conduct an "outrage."

With any complaint of clergy sexual abuse, Burke said, the accuser was invited "to come to speak with me immediately" as part of a "very careful process to protect the rights and dignity of those involved."

"I have always had the policy of meeting with anyone who has alleged sexual abuse," he said. "And I will be disposed here to meet" with victims of clergy sexual abuse.

When installed Jan. 26, Burke, 55, formally succeeds Justin Rigali, who in October took the Philadelphia archdiocese's helm and became a cardinal after more then nine years leading the St. Louis area's 550,000 Catholics.

The St. Louis-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests had claimed Rigali insulated himself from the sex-abuse scandal, never meeting with survivors and hiring a public relations firm for damage control.

"Slightly encouraged" by Burke's comments Tuesday, SNAP national director David Clohessy said, "We would certainly hope to work with him to make the church a safer place for everybody," ideally by meeting with Burke before he formally becomes archbishop.

"And if the meeting takes place without a lot of caveats, conditions and difficulties, that'll certainly be some sign of progress," Clohessy said.

For now, Clohessy said, SNAP looks to study up on Burke, a native Wisconsinite who told about 150 welcomers here, "I cannot deny a certain sadness in leaving the faithful of La Crosse whom I love so much."

But, "now I belong to you," he said. With 220 parishes, the St. Louis archdiocese is far larger than the La Crosse diocese that has more than 200,000 Catholics in 169 parishes.

Like Rigali, Burke has ties to Rome. He studied at the American seminary and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, was ordained a priest in a St. Peter's Basilica ceremony and was elevated to bishop in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II.

"I think he's going to play a prominent role among the bishops," given his Vatican links, knowledge of church canon law and interest in public policy matters, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

And "he's not afraid to get involved," Reese said, citing Burke's stumping for fair agricultural pricing for family farmers in Wisconsin.

"Society has an obligation, with governmental help when necessary, to ensure justice in the marketplace," Burke, the son of late dairy farmers, wrote in 1997 to then-Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. "We are all moral agents in economic life, and farmers, in particular, deserve an effective voice in the price they receive for their produce."

"I'm very proud him," said Burke's sister, Mary Drexler, who still lives in Stratford. "I'm very proud of his accomplishments and all the work that he's done."

Burke also has publicly advocated humane animal treatment, among other things questioning how animals are crammed together on large corporate farms and pumped with antibiotics.

On the issue of clergy sexual misconduct, Burke told a Milwaukee gathering last December that "no matter how grave the act of sexual abuse, our response in Christ must be to hate the sin but be filled with hope in the healing grace of Christ and in charity to be filled with love for the sinner."

"The Catholic response to scandal is charity," the Milwaukee Catholic Herald quoted Burke as telling Catholics United for the Faith. "Care must be taken to understand the nature of sinful acts and assist the sinner in taking up a life of repentance so that the necessary reparation can be done."

After hearing Burke speak Tuesday at a pastoral center where she helps sort mail, Joan Hensley concluded Burke "doesn't seem to be too much of a politician," at 55 brings vitality, and appears forthright with his "come-and-see-me" style of handling clergy abuse.

Still, the grandmother defended Rigali's delegating issues involving clergy abuse, saying "just because he didn't bring them (SNAP and victims) into his office didn't mean he didn't care."

Burke remains diocesan administrator in La Crosse until his installation in St. Louis. Once the La Crosse position is vacant, the diocesan College of Consultors will appoint an administrator to oversee the diocese until a new bishop is named.

The Rev. Richard Gilles, moderator of the Curia for La Crosse, said the temporary administrator could be any of the diocese's 125 active priests.

Although there is no firm timetable for appointing bishops, Gilles and La Crosse diocese communications director Rose Hammes said they are hoping a new bishop will be named within four or five months.


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