Pastor: 'I Am Innocent of All the Accusations'

By Ted Slowik
Daily Southtown [Illinois]
March 28, 2006

A Joliet pastor is publicly declaring that he's innocent of a claim that he sexually abused a boy at a Mokena parish more than 25 years ago.

The Rev. James Burnett wrote to parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in a letter distributed in parish bulletins last weekend.

"I am innocent of all the accusations that have been made against me, and I know that innocence will prevail," Burnett wrote.

Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch placed Burnett on administrative leave Feb. 7, the day that Dan Shanahan, 34, of Phoenix, Ariz., publicly accused Burnett of repeatedly molesting him, beginning when Shanahan was 8 in 1978. Shanahan claims that some of the abuse occurred in a confessional at St. Mary Church in Mokena.

The Joliet Diocese's review board is investigating the accusation. Through a diocesan spokesman, Burnett has denied the accusations, but the letter was his first direct declaration of his innocence.

"It was, naively, my hope that I would be back at St. Raymond's by now," Burnett says in the letter. "The many days since my departure have been dark, some darker than others."

He's encouraged by the many letters he has received from supporters, and he reads the letters when he feels discouraged, Burnett wrote.

"I do believe deeply in the power of prayer, and I do believe that your prayers will bring this situation to a happy conclusion," he wrote. "It is my deepest hope that one day we will be together in person as we are now in prayer."

Burnett, 63, has been rector of St. Raymond since 2002. He was ordained in 1968 and served at St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville (from 1968-74); St. Mary in Mokena, (1974-90); and Ss. Peter and Paul in Naperville (1990-2002).

Shanahan first told the diocese of the alleged abuse on Dec. 20 but went public six weeks later while Burnett was still in active ministry. An attorney for Shanahan said Monday that a lawsuit concerning the alleged abuse would likely be filed in April.


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