Priest Receives Support
Abuse Allegations: Rev. James Burnett's Supporters and Accuser Speak out

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
February 15, 2006

JOLIET — Parishioners from churches where the Rev. James Burnett has served are expressing "overwhelming support" for the Roman Catholic priest, a Joliet Diocese spokesman said Tuesday.

In the week since 34-year-old Dan Shanahan of Phoenix, Ariz., went public with an accusation that Burnett molested him, the diocese has received many letters and cards of support from Burnett's parishes in Joliet, Mokena, Naperville and Bensenville.

Supporters like Michael Goebig, a classmate of Shanahan's at St. Mary Church in Mokena, say the claim is inconsistent with Burnett's character.

"During my eight years at St. Mary's, I never saw any indication of, nor did I ever feel that there was any inappropriate behavior going on between Father Burnett and any of the other students," Goebig said.

Burnett has denied the allegation and is on administrative leave until the diocese's review board considers the claim and recommends what action Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch should take.

Shanahan this week stood by his recollection that Burnett repeatedly fondled him in a dimly lighted, face-to-face confessional at St. Mary for four years beginning when he was 8 years old in 1978.

"I'm getting lots of support and also lots of backlash," Shanahan said in an e-mail.

Shanahan grew up with two brothers and a sister in Mokena. Former classmates said he was known for picking fights and causing trouble, and Shanahan says the description is accurate.

"I have had anger problems as far as I can remember. I was the class bully because I didn't want other boys around me except for sports," he said.

Shanahan played football at Lincoln-Way High School and graduated in 1989. He began a three-year stint on active duty with the Marines that year, and saw combat as a field artillery specialist during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the Marines' public information office said. He received numerous awards and medals from the military.

Before and after he served in the military, Shanahan was arrested for various offenses including battery and driving under the influence, Will County court records indicate.

Shanahan said he was divorced with no children. He sells real estate in Arizona and is starting a moving business.

A letter from Imesch was read during weekend Masses at the four parishes where Burnett has served during his 38 years as a priest. Imesch asks anyone who is aware of any inappropriate behavior by Burnett to contact the diocese at (815) 722-6606.

"I know that you will keep Father Burnett in your prayers. I ask you also to pray for the young man. Pray also for all victims of abuse," Imesch said in the letter. "Each day I pray for all of the people of the Church of Joliet. During these days, my prayer, like yours, takes on more meaning. We realize more deeply how all of us are affected by the lives of others."

Last week, a service of healing was held at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet, where Burnett has been pastor since 2002.

"Father Burnett has received many supporting letters and notes through the cathedral and elsewhere," diocesan spokesman Tom Kerber said. "The prayer session the other night saw more than 400 people come out in support of Father Burnett."

The diocese would not disclose the date of the review board's mid-February meeting. The board might make a recommendation, or say that more information should be gathered about the claim before a recommendation is made.

- Contact Ted Slowik at (815) 729-6053 or at


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