Accused Ex-Priest in Pueblo Kills Self Andrew A. Burke, 62, Shot Himself Wednesday in His Backyard.
He Was Accused of Tying up and Blindfolding an Altar Boy for Sexual Purposes in the Early 1970s
By Kirk Mitchell
September 23, 2005
Facing accusations that he tied up and blindfolded an altar boy for sexual purposes in the early 1970s, a former Catholic priest in Pueblo committed suicide Wednesday.
Andrew A. Burke, 62, who had been the social-work director at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, shot himself in the chest in his backyard with a .38-caliber handgun that still had the price tag attached, said Deputy Chief John Ercul of the Pueblo Police Department.
Police found Burke's body about 8 a.m. in his backyard after his wife found a suicide note and called police, Ercul said.
Contacted by The Denver Post on Tuesday afternoon, Burke, who had been a priest in the early 1970s at St. Pius X in Pueblo, left a phone message with the newspaper hours before his death.
"I know I failed as a priest. I failed (the altar boy) and his family, and I certainly failed the church, and for that I am deeply sorry," Burke said in the message.
Burke said the story the former altar boy told to an official of the Diocese of Pueblo in 2004 was mostly accurate, except for a few details.
In a prison interview with The Post more than a month ago, the former altar boy, who is now serving an eight-year prison sentence for burglary, described events that happened between 1970 and 1974.
The inmate, who requested anonymity out of concern for his safety in prison, said he met Burke when he was a 10-year- old altar boy at St. Pius X in 1970.
Thinking the priest was trying to help him after his parents divorced, the boy accepted hefty payments from Burke for such chores as dusting books and vacuuming.
But soon the priest entangled him in a bizarre ritual that made him feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, he said.
Burke would have the altar boy change into swimming trunks or strip down to his shorts, blindfold him, tie him with strips of cloth to pipes, tickle him and drip ice on him as part of regular hour-long human endurance experiments, the former altar boy said. He couldn't see what Burke was doing; he could only feel as the priest straddled his body and touched or rubbed him with ice or frozen washcloths, he said.
The priest would leave him tied up for long periods, he said. Afterward, he would pay the boy up to $20.
The victim said Thursday that he felt terrible about Burke's taking his life.
"I almost started crying because I didn't feel like someone should take their life over it," he said. "I'm thinking he must have felt pretty guilty. I'm trying to weigh it out in my heart that it wasn't because of me."
In a September 2004 letter to the Pueblo Diocese, the former altar boy said he "knew this sick man was masturbating over me," according to Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut.
The "experiments" once or twice a week changed little over the next four years and extended after Burke left the priesthood and got married, the inmate said.
In his message, Burke did not say why he tied up the altar boy.
"It's a strange behavior," Burke's attorney, Mark Ohlsen, said Tuesday, "but neither criminal nor sexual."
According to a copy of Burke's December 1973 request to be released from the priesthood, Burke wrote to Pope Paul VI that he struggled with loneliness and a "psycho-sexual behavior disorder," Thiebaut said.
In the September 2004 letter to the diocese, the inmate asked Monsignor Mark Plewka whether diocese officials and Burke could persuade Pueblo Judge David W. Crockenberg to resentence him to community corrections for his burglary. He later wrote letters to the diocese and Burke seeking $2 million or $5,000 a month for 35 years in a sort of informal settlement.
Plewka said last week that he met the inmate in August 2004 and offered him counseling. He also reported to police what happened. Plewka said that no one had ever made similar allegations against Burke, who was a social worker at two private Pueblo hospitals and since 1999 the director of social work at the state hospital.
Staff writer Kirk Mitchell can be reached at 303-820-1206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text of Burke's message The telephone message Andrew Burke left on Denver Post reporter Kirk Mitchell's voice mail in the hours before Burke committed suicide: Hello, Kirk Mitchell.
I'm calling you because I really don't think I have the emotional wherewithal to meet with you this soon, although I very much appreciate the opportunity that you are giving me to meet with you. I do think that it is very important to tell you as far as my side of the story is concerned, the original account that (an altar boy) gave to the diocese - and I think you have that - in its essentials is correct. I may disagree with some details in it, but in its essentials it is accurate.
Beyond that, any allegations of worse sexual activity or other issues is simply not true. I need to make a sharp distinction between the inappropriate behavior described in the first account and any other activity.
That said, I know I failed as a priest. I failed (the altar boy) and his family, and I certainly failed the church, and for that I am deeply sorry. I'm hoping that some opportunity to help things will be there. Although my original interest in meeting with (the altar boy) was not accepted.
At any rate, I want to at least make that much clarification to you and thank you very much.
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