Anne Burke and Bob Bennett Go to Rome, Meet with Then Cardinal Ratzinger, Craft a Comprehensive Report.
Objective Accomplished—but Will the Bishops, Hamstrung by Bureaucracy, Implement? Not That Bunch

By Thomas F. Roeser
The Wanderer
September 1, 2006

She Calls for Disbanding of the U.S.C.C.B., a "Trade Association."

Similarities in Views Seen Between Her and Authenticist Leader Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz.

The third and final article in a series for The Wanderer, the oldest national Catholic newspaper in the United States.

Chicago — As we discussed her service as interim head of the National Review Board-the group set up by the Catholic bishops through a public relations agency to smooth over pedophilia-Anne Burke told me she believes the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops should be disbanded. "All it is," she said, "is a trade association. And not a very good one at that."

That conforms exactly to what Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska said much earlier. To both of them, the existence of the marble mausoleum headquarters in Washington, D. C., the ornate assembly room, decked out like the UN Security Council with individual microphones, gives an air of egregious pretense and politicization not to mention a huge expense paid out from well-meaning Church donors. The USCCB with its bureaucrats entices bishops to pass the buck on tough issues to a faceless association in Washington. Actually, the Conference was built as a personal vehicle for then Bishop Joseph Bernardin to build a following and win recognition from Rome.

That Bishop Bruskewitz, the best known and most courageous authenticist prelate in the United States and Burke, a gutsy critic of the bishops' establishment which has excluded Bruskewitz, didn't communicate during her tenure strikes some as a shame. Both are natural rebels; both have naturally blunt but honest styles. They don't agree on everything but could have worked together on some important matters. Knowing both, this Wanderer reporter thinks such an alliance could have been fascinating and performed great things for the Church.

They seem to agree on a number of things. First, on their view that robust discipline and courageous handling of erring clerics by bishops rather than by namby-pamby methods of transferring them to other assignments, postponed solution of the problems and actually worsened them. Bruskewitz has been eloquent on that issue, that the failings had been caused by "the bishops' own (how shall we say it) sloth, folly, negligence or whatever it might be. I think it's unquestionable that history and God Himself will judge very adversely the carelessness or recklessness or whatever it was that caused this situation to develop." Burke expressed the same sentiments in pungent fashion with me.

Second, the USCCB is nothing more than an echelon of bureaucracy that blunts individual bishops' effectiveness at home and should be abolished, the sooner the better; Burke believing that it is an oracular cave of winds and Bruskewitz having expressed similar views. Third: reasons other than the logical appointment of outside people dominated makeup of the Board: shallow p. r. considerations. Bruskewitz has said, "I think in my darker moments that there was a desire to placate the Beltway press-the media in the Washington area-and somehow it was supposed that the appointment of these particular persons would provide some satisfaction for the media and allow for some favorable coverage in this tragic business, the heinous business of sexual misconduct by priests and bishops." Burke said virtually the same thing to me.

Fourth: the process of picking the membership was inept. Bishop Bruskewitz assumed, understandably, that they were picked by some USCCB functionaries acting for the bishops. But possibly even he didn't know the extent of the incompetence of the choosing. A New York p. r. agency staffed by secular, commercial image-building types "googled" (conducted an internet search of) a list of nationally known Catholics without any consideration of their views on theology or the Church. The names were sorted with political balance-Gov. Frank Keating, an Oklahoma Republican as chairman and Burke, a Chicago Democrat as vice chairman. The list was sent on to the bishops' office which cavalierly endorsed most of them without considerable thought. Bruskewitz says that the church should not be run "from a bully pulpit occupied by people who are doctrinally and morally not in sympathy with the Church." Burke is shocked at such a disorderly process usurped the bishops' function.

Fifth the National Review Board should have been established with more attention to statutory regulations than crass public relations considerations-a fact enunciated by Bruskewitz who told his diocesan newspaper that "I would certainly say that there should be some more clear statutory regulations and some clear job descriptions…And the National Review Board should be reconstituted with people who are loyal to the Catholic Church and the teachings of the church in their full dimensions." Burke agrees.

Sixth-and most surprising--Burke is somewhat skeptical of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). Not that she doubts victims charges but recognizes SNAP is a pressure lobby. It has a full-time, paid president, a woman abused by a priest, lawyer Barbara Blaine. It also has an executive, a young man who claims repressed memory only brought to light abuses that were visited on him by a priest when he was very young (repressed memory being held in serious doubt by this city's premier social psychologist who is also a talk-show host, Dr. Milton Rosenberg). Burke does not doubt the existence of sexual abuse-far from it, she aims to eradicate it-but she told me in terms that Bishop Bruskewtiz might share that Blaine and her group are professional agitators on the subject: trying to inveigle the television media with their stories. She understands the game but feels SNAP has a reason to keep the issue alive: its own viability as an organization.

"That's their job, after all-the job they're paid to do, isn't it?" she said. It's a view perhaps many authenticists would share, possibly Bruskewitz.

But on the issue of Jeff Anderson, the Minnesota attorney who brings lawsuits over priest sexual abuse and reaps a good living from them, Burke doesn't knock a fellow lawyer or the right of accused to legal counsel.

"Nothing wrong with that," she said. "Everyone's entitled to a lawyer."

That Burke and Bruskewitz may agree on much leads this reporter to regret that they hadn't met before the opening bell of Round One of the Board meeting. They seemed to be in different corners but didn't have to be.

Not all is sanguine, however. They divide on Leon Panetta, Bill Clinton's administrative assistant, who as a Congressman and White House aide supported abortion on demand. Burke, a pro-lifer, nevertheless felt that apart from that issue, she benefited from his specific judgment in board meetings. Likewise with Dr. Michael Bland of the Chicago area, a former priest about whom Bruskewitz has speculated on whether he was formally laicized; Burke thinks Bland, an expert in behavioral mental health, made an important contribution.

Had Burke and Bruskewtiz ever met, the judge might remonstrate with the bishop to change his mind on Robert Bennett, brother of William Bennett Reagan's education secretary. Bruskewitz questioned his suitability because he was defense lawyer for Bill Clinton during the time of Clinton's veto of partial birth abortion and "through the whole drama of impeachment." But Burke argues that legal defense is a right and that no lawyer should be condemned because of an unpopular client, citing John Adams who defended British soldiers who fired on a defenseless crowd during the Boston Massacre. Moreover, Burke would say Bennett was her strong right arm in rallying a once chaotic board to produce a report that charts a clear course of action. If, she would add, the bishops will only follow it.

The Burke-Bennett alliance was interesting.

In the midst of dissention between the bishops and the Board, Democrat Burke, a trim athlete and sailor and Bennett, an ex-Democrat turned conservative Republican, lumbering, overweight and crotchety who seemingly cannot smile, sat down and pondered what to do. Reviewing the obstacles thrown their way by the bishops, Burke said suddenly: "why don't we go to Rome?" "What?" growled Bennett. "See John Paul II?" The Pope was desperately ill at the time. Burke said, "No-but why not Ratzinger?"

Bennett groaned. "The bishops in charge of this place will not permit it." Then they both laughed: they were being buffaloed by the bishops' bureaucracy as well!

They both came to the same conclusion: Who cares?

So they worked closely together, coordinating their respective church contacts along with ambassadorial link-ups. The next thing they knew they were plugged into a meeting with Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, then prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, dean of the college of cardinals, close confidante to John Paul II and the second ranking official of the world-wide Catholic church.

"Don't even ask how we did it," Burke said to this Wanderer reporter. "You know something about politics, don't you?"

Next thing they knew the two of them were on a flight to Rome, Burke docking the bishops for her flight, Bennett, the most famous defense lawyer in Washington, paying his own way. First, they huddled with sprightly, very quotable Francis Cardinal Arinze the Nigerian-born prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Cardinal Arinze, noted for his blunt, no-holds-barred words, got right to the point. "Tell me," he said in his British-tinged accent as he peered at the two with eyes that seemed to probe their souls, "what is going on?"

"A long story," said Burke. And they told it.

It is exceedingly likely that Burke and Bishop Bruskewitz agree on the brilliant merits of the outspoken Arinze who seems to talk in sound bytes inimical to hierarchical parsing: a later candidate for the papacy. After Arinze peppered them with questions, he led them to another office-not all that big-occupied by Cardinal Ratzinger. In his lightly German-flavored accent with superb English diction, he said: "I have been very eager to see you and to listen to your report and have many questions to ask you." They bent his ear for two and one half hours.

As Burke and Bennett strode out into the hot Roman sun, Bennett said: "I think we're getting somewhere."

"To say that we were highly impressed is an understatement," Burke

told me. "He had a number of pungent observations."

What did he say? this Wanderer scribe asked. After a long pause, she asked, "do you want more coffee?" As she poured, she said in a words familiar to all Chicagoans who know how politicians talk: "That's for me to know…" And, said I, "for me to find out."

Correct. And I didn't find out, she being the consummate professional. But this would be yet another issue on which she and Bishop Bruskewitz would agree. The man who became Pope Benedict XVI was direct in his questioning, far from naive in assessing the situation in the United States, not so theological or philosophically speculative as to render it an academic exercise but asking pertinent questions concerning bishops, their preparation for the task, how involved they were in the exercise, what they sought to achieve by the process and how they would reform in the future.

News of their meeting with the two cardinals got back to the United States almost instantaneously. The second Burke walked into her judicial office, her secretary handed her a flock of notes to call Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB.

"You are entitled to know," said the bishop in his grave way, "that even bishops who go to Rome for such meetings are required to clear them with this office."

"I am sure," said Justice Burke. "But then as you know, we are not bishops."

The conversation thereafter was professional but brief.

The political forensics went on until the end of Justice Burke's term as interim president of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. There was no indication that she would be reappointed-and, indeed, she couldn't for she was due to be named to a higher judicial post-from Appellate Justice to state Supreme Court Justice. Also she felt she had been beating against a stone wall. But she supervised the preparation of the comprehensive report issued February 27, 2004. Her successor was named Chairman not interim chairman-a little reminder that with the USCC hierarchy, she was a rebel from start to finish.

"Doesn't bother me," Anne Burke said last week as we finished our third meeting. She had given the bishops more reform than their leaders had counted on when they made their oracular and pompous addresses to the television cameras. She insisted on issuing a report which the highly vaunted Charter hadn't called for. She caused the bishops to ordered and pay for the most thorough study of clerical sexual abuse ever in the history of any Church in the world through the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She encouraged-well, did more than encourage, but served up only one option to the bishops so they had to ratify it-the naming of Kathleen McChesney, an outstanding FBI agent, number three in the bureau, as head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. And then Burke was gone.

Following Burke's departure there was controversy about McChesney's staff hire, Teresa Kettelkamp, a former Illinois state trooper, who mandated what some feel is a graphically described how-to book teaching children how to protect themselves which grossly offended some parents and some bishops due to the explicit nature of the writing. While Burke didn't figure in the production of the materials, she defends them, saying that due to the cultural depravity, explicit warnings must be issued.

"When you were young and went to a department store with your mother," she said, "she would undoubtedly warn you before you went to the washroom not to talk to strangers or allow any strangers talk to you." Right-that was an early warning which we had during the 1930s.

"But now, sadly, things are different," she said. "Now what's required in order to protect young people, regrettably, is much more warning than that. Now because of the debased culture we must safeguard our kids from improper touching, improper advances and to enable them to protect themselves they must receive more information than we had as kids. When we were kids, before television, did we have an overflow of slush and semi-pornography into our homes? Of course not. The protection of our kids require that they receive more than we did when we were their ages."

She cited her own experience with her now ten year old son, an African American kid born to a drug-obsessed mother whom the Burkes adopted-the birth mother first agreeing then not agreeing, fighting with authorities because she delays taking treatmemnt, in a legal action that is being contested to this day. She was in the very same position as my mother many decades ago when we were at Marshall Field's and nature called. My mother said, "don't take to anyone in there." Burke told her son Travis, "don't let anybody talk to you or touch you in there, hear me?"

When he came out, he shouted across the room: "Hey, Mom! Nobody touched me in there!"

The only time in the three extended conservations of several hours long this Wanderer reporter had with Burke was trying to make clear-cut distinction on the issue of homosexuality vis-a-vis priestly pedophilia. Bishop Bruskewitz asked the USCCB to make a study of the scandals, to find out whether or not they were homosexual in nature, his motion failed for want of a second, an indication of the skittishness Bishops have about the prevalence of sexual abnormality among priests and possibly among their own number.

Burke bobs and weaves and is not a model of clarity on that issue, citing the fact that while homosexual inclination could be endemic among priests--particularly those who entered pre-divinity at a very early age--a linkage between homosexuality and child abuse is vague and uncertain.

I pressed on. "Yet the John Jay Report said that over 80 percent of the crimes committed in the scandals were 'homosexual in nature.'"

She agreed with this language but said the phrase "homosexual in nature" does not mean that homosexuals are more prone to commit offenses.

"Com'on," I said. "Isn't this a distinction without a difference?"

That's where I made Burke the lawyer and judge work hardest. Our coffee turned cold in the cups as she finally came out against the very early induction of boys into pre-divinity studies, arguing that with no experience whatsoever in natural boy-girl relationships, they may be drawn into associational affinities that one could say were homosexual in nature but would not categorize them as homosexuals. I said: good try. I'm still not with you.

But her view that the church makes a mistake by encouraging very young boys to become priests was shared by Chicago's most revered priest, Msgr. Ignatius McDermott, the city's famed "Skid Row priest," a lifelong friend of Anne Burke and her husband. A man's man, a fellow South Sider and White Sox fan who before his death at 95 was viewed by young and older priests alike as a model for their lives, he felt the same way as Anne Burke..

"A man should be out in the world, I think," he said to me not long before his death. "When I was young, we were recruited for the priesthood by well-meaning pastors and nuns and our mothers were thrilled. We were not even in our teens. With me and my classmates it was okay. We wanted the priesthood and loved it. But now, I think, with different circumstances, that priesthood candidates should be out in the world before they make that commitment."

He did not elucidate but I think I understood.

"Yes," she said finally nodding at a photo of the man all Chicago called Father Mac, on her wall. "He said it better."

Anne Burke is still a rebel, still a caustic critic of the bishops' establishment. "As far as I know," she says, "the recommendations of our Report have not been implemented. Can you imagine that?" The report, if followed, would be the most revolutionary yet conservative and authentically Catholic, reform the institutional and spiritual side of the church has had since the days of Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul.

It starts out with an outline for comprehensive reform of the seminaries. In Chicago the rector of the seminary that allow indicted predator Fr. Daniel McCormack to skip through, that somehow "lost" the papers of his prior lapses, has been promoted to vicar general of the archdiocese, the second-ranking position. Far from being promoted, he should have been asked to defend himself. Moreover, the lay chancellor, Jimmy (his formal, not nick-name) Lago who was supposed to be in charge of the affairs of the diocese has been reappointed and given official supervision of clerical abuses, a job most people thought he had all the time. This after Lago gave a huge self-promoting interview to the Tribune telling how he bolstered a dazed and confused Francis Cardinal George who didn't know what to do .

The report calls for: a fuller treatment of the gift of clerical celibacy (in some seminaries, celibacy as a topic seldom, if ever, comes up)…great stress to be placed on holiness and prayer life for priests…bishops to forsake initial presumptions in favor of accused priests…laicization of erring priests although the procedure is sanction in canon law.

Further it recommends doing away with: clericalism, where bishops sweep offenses under the rug so as to keep them from being made public…forgiveness without condemnation, where the erring priest is allowed to believe his action was a mere oversight rather than a grievous sin and insult to the trust children place in him…undue reliance of bishops on psychiatrists and psychologists in place of spiritual guidance…undue reliance on lawyers who dismiss sexual abuse of children by priests as mere legal problems…failure of bishops to hold themselves accountable, passing the buck to lay officials or faceless boards…undue reliance of Vatican-appointees as candidates for bishoprics, men who have little or no pastoral experience…disregard of fraternal correction when bishops see other bishops avoiding the issue or deciding to opt out of the unpopular style of calling priests to account.

"I'd be surprised if anything has been done in this regard," she said, of the 143-page document A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church of the United States.

In October the original members of the National Review Board will get together for a reunion. They will certainly recall that but for a gutsy Irish lady Democratic judge from the south side of Chicago…with the help of a bulky, overweight curmudgeon Republican defense lawyer, two who won their support…the Report would have been a glossy corporate-style annual report with glowing predictions. Instead of what it is: an honest, accusing finger pointing to certain bishops in their marble palace…not all: one in Lincoln, Nebraska is an exception…who haven't even read much of it and who would rather concentrate on more convenient politically palatable issues than the well-being of our children.

My salute to Anne Burke is in Chicagoese: "Way to go, lady! You done good!"


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