Abuse Suits Now at 15

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
May 25, 2006

JOLIET — Two brothers are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, claiming sexual abuse by two different priests.

Dan Shanahan says he was molested by the Rev. James Burnett, and Tim Shanahan says he was raped and abused by the Rev. William Virtue.

Both clerics were placed on administrative leave earlier this year. Burnett was removed as pastor of the Cathedral of St. Raymond, while Virtue was taken out of ministries at rural parishes in the Peoria and Rockford dioceses.

The brothers filed suits Tuesday in Will County Circuit Court, bringing to 15 the number of suits pending against the diocese in Will and DuPage counties.

Dan Shanahan, 34, of Phoenix, Ariz., went public in February with his claim that Burnett molested him repeatedly for four years beginning approximately when he was 8 years old in 1978. Some of the alleged incidents occurred in a confessional at St. Mary Church in Mokena, he said.

Tim Shanahan, 38, says Virtue raped him repeatedly and committed other abuses beginning approximately in 1980 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy. The alleged abuses began when Virtue caught Shanahan stealing at church, said his attorney, Jeff Anderson of Minneapolis.

Virtue allegedly sodomized Shanahan at the church rectory and in woods near the church, Anderson said.

The dates cited in the lawsuits, however, do not correspond to the men's ages.

Tim Shanahan is serving a prison sentence at the Vienna Correctional Center for drug possession and for driving with a revoked license.

"After this abuse began, his life spiralled downward," Anderson said.

At least one other man is also claiming abuse by Burnett, Anderson and Dan Shanahan said. The other alleged victim is represented by a different lawyer, who did not return calls seeking comment.

Both suits accuse the diocese and Bishop Joseph Imesch of negligence in connection with the alleged abuses.

Burnett, 63, has served at four parishes since he was ordained in 1968: St. Charles Borromeo, Bensenville (1968-74); St. Mary, Mokena (1974-90); Ss. Peter and Paul, Naperville (1990-2002); and St. Raymond, 2002-2006.

Review board

Dan Shanahan declined to appear in person before the diocesan review board, though he did submit to the diocese a DVD of his testimony, his attorney said.

"There has been no decision by the review committee since Father Burnett was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 7," diocesan spokesman Tom Kerber said Wednesday. The diocese would not comment on pending legal action, he added.

Virtue, 57, an author who wrote his doctoral dissertation about breastfeeding, began his clerical career at St. Mary Magdalene in Joliet. He also served at St. Dominic in Bolingbrook and at Joliet's St. Mary Nativity and Sacred Heart churches.

He later transferred to the Peoria Diocese and served at churches in Granville, Loretta, Farmer City, Creve Coeur, Earlville, Marytown and Walton and at a nursing home in Lacon.

A spokeswoman for the Peoria Diocese did not return a call seeking comment.

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


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