Diocese: Allegations Not Credible

By Joe Hosey
Herald News
March 30, 2007,4_1_JO30_PRIEST_S1.article

Joliet — The Diocese of Joliet determined allegations of sexual abuse against a prominent local priest are implausible, but still won't let him serve his parishioners.

The Rev. James Burnett has been on administrative leave since last year and will stay there despite a review committee finding allegations made by one man "not credible," said diocesan spokesman Doug Delaney. The board "has not been able to resolve the credibility" of an accusation leveled by a second man.

The first man, Dan Shanahan, said Burnett molested him repeatedly for four years beginning sometime around 1978, when Shanahan was 8. Some of the alleged incidents occurred in a confessional at St. Mary Church in Mokena, Shanahan said.

The second accuser, identified by Delaney as a "John Doe," also was a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Mokena.

"He has alleged a single act of sexual abuse dating back to 1983," Delaney said.

"The Diocese of Joliet first learned of Mr. Doe's accusations through his attorney in July of 2006," Delaney said. "From the beginning Mr. Doe has made clear his intention to make his accusation public. The Diocese of Joliet has respected his decision as to when to do so."

Shanahan cases

Shanahan's attorney, Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., decried the decision by the review board, saying he reacted with "both a deep sadness and fear."

"Sadness because they chose to not believe the victim and have chosen to protect the priest and fear that they continue to imperil the children," Anderson said.

Shanahan has a civil action pending against Burnett. His brother, 38-year-old Timothy Shanahan, has a civil suit going against another priest.

Timothy Shanahan said the Rev. William Virtue repeatedly raped him and committed other abuses beginning sometime when he was a 10-year-old altar boy. This allegedly started when Virtue caught Timothy Shanahan stealing at church,

Timothy Shanahan has done prison time for a 1998 theft in Will County. He also served time in prison for burglary, drug and traffic charges. He was released from prison in October and is still on parole.

Charges unlikely

Delaney said the diocese has "informed the state's attorney's office of both (the Dan Shanahan and John Doe) allegations" and will cooperate throughout the legal process.

"During the interim and pending the outcome of the lawsuits, Father James Burnett continues to remain out of ministry," Delaney said.

Delaney expected this to be the case at least until the resolution of the civil suit.

While the diocese forwarded the charges to prosecutors, it is doubtful criminal charges will result.

Charles B. Pelkie, spokesman for State's Attorney James Glasgow, said the statute of limitations is three years for a sex offense committed in 1982 or 1983 that did not involve a family member.

The statute of limitations now would be 20 years after the victim's 18th birthday, but there was no such extension in 1982 or 1983.

Contact Joe Hosey at (815) 729-6054 or


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