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  Priest's Parish Letter Denies Abuse Charges

By Lolly Bowean
Chicago Tribune
March 29, 2006

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/southsouthwest/chi-0603290288mar29,1,6099510.
story?coll=chi-newslocalssouthwest-hed

A Catholic priest who was placed on leave last month amid allegations that he sexually abused a boy more than 20 years ago while serving at a church in Mokena, has formally denied the allegations in a letter to former parishioners, officials said.

Rev. James Burnett, who had served at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet from 2002 until he was placed on administrative leave in February, wrote the letter last week that was copied and distributed as an insert to the Joliet church's Sunday bulletin, officials said.

In his letter, Burnett thanks parishioners for their support and prayers.

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

"The many days since my departure have been dark, some darker than others," he 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."

Last month a 34-year-old man who now lives in Phoenix came forward with allegations against Burnett.

Dan Shanahan was 8 years old when the abuse started in 1978, his lawyer, Jeff Anderson, said. The abuse lasted until 1982, he added.

On Tuesday, Anderson said his client intends to file a lawsuit against the Joliet diocese. Burnett's public denial did not come as a surprise, he added.

"Ninety-five percent of these offenders deny it," he said. "They live and operate in denial, so its customary."

Though Burnett is technically suspended from his duties, he is allowed to communicate with his former parishioners, said Joliet diocese spokesman Thomas Kerber.

Burnett was a priest at St. Mary in Mokena for 16 years, ending in 1990. He also served as a priest at St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville and Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville.

The Will County state's attorney's office is investigating, Kerber said. The diocese will conduct its own inquiry once that investigation has been completed, he said.

Kerber said after Burnett was placed on leave the diocese encouraged any other potential accusers to speak up, and so far there has been no response.

"There have been no further allegations of sexual misconduct against Burnett," he said. "No one has come forward."

lbowean@tribune.com

 
 

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