Priest Accuser Seeks to Lift Limits
By Patrick Malone
February 4, 2006
A former Puebloan who accused a Catholic priest of molesting him decades ago testified this week before a Colorado House committee, urging lawmakers to lift the statute of limitations for pursuing action against pedophiles.
The 45-year-old man, who has not made his identity public, told The Pueblo Chieftain in October that he had been sexually molested by Andrew Burke in 1972. Burke was a priest assigned to St. Pius X Catholic Church at that time.
Burke later left the priesthood. His exit letter to the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo mentioned that he suffered from "a psycho-sexual behavior disorder," but didn't detail the disorder. Burke committed suicide in September when news accounts of the allegations against him were about to be made public.
The former Puebloan who testified before the Legislature on Thursday is one of three men to come forward with allegations of abuse by Burke. One of them, an inmate in the Colorado Department of Corrections, has filed a lawsuit against the diocese over alleged abuse by Burke.
Although he has not filed suit yet, the man who testified Thursday said he probably will.
Thursday's hearing before a House committee dealt with HB1088, which would remove criminal and civil statutes of limitation that apply to private institutions, including churches and private colleges. It would not include public institutions, such as schools or government agencies.
Public agencies must be notified by plaintiffs of the intent to sue within 180 days of an incident, and damages are capped at $150,000 under Colorado's governmental immunity law.
The House Judiciary Committee approved HB1088 unanimously on Thursday, moving it into the House.
Critics of the bill testified that it unevenly targets the Catholic religion, which has been the subject of more than two dozen lawsuits filed in the past year statewide alleging sexual abuse by clergy. More than one dozen suits containing similar allegations have been filed in Pueblo since September.
Under current Colorado law, most recourse evaporates 10 years after an accuser's 18th birthday. The anonymous former Puebloan who testified on Thursday said the intent of the bill isn't to target anyone, but rather to extend a victim's opportunity for redemption under the law.
"With the guilt that you feel, the shame that you feel, how do you come to deal with it as an adult, much less as a kid?" Burke's accuser said. "If youíve ever dealt with a pedophile, you know they groom you from childhood, and itís sometimes not until youíre an adult of 30 or older that you can come to terms with what happened to you and get a grip on how to deal with it. This bill is about confronting your perpetrator."
Some opponents of the measure have argued that it opens the door for accusers to disrupt the lives of the accused decades beyond their alleged acts, when they've settled into normal lives.
"It's easy for them to settle in and move on," Burke's accuser said. "They're not the ones that were violated. Letís protect the children so they can take action when theyíre ready to deal with it. This is about protecting children, nothing more, nothing less."
Earlier this week, Pueblo Bishop Arthur Tafoya joined two other bishops in submitting a statement to the Legislature that condemns the proposed laws as unjustly targeting private institutions.
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