Diocese Denies Knowing of Priest's Molestation

By Patrick Malone
The Pueblo Chieftain

October 17, 2008

In its response to a Denver man's lawsuit alleging years of sexual abuse by a former priest, the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo denied the allegations and claimed it did not know of any earlier accusations against the priest.

The response, filed this week in Pueblo district court, contradicts earlier statements by a diocesan official that he believed Matt Cortez's claims that he had been sexually abused by Andrew Burke. Twice Monsignor Mark Plewka told The Pueblo Chieftain that he believed Cortez's allegations against Burke were truthful.

Plewka was out of the diocesan offices Thursday, according to a receptionist. He could not be reached for comment.

Cortez filed a lawsuit in July accusing Burke of molesting him over an eight-year span, beginning when Burke was a Catholic priest assigned to St. Pius X Church in Pueblo. Burke left the priesthood in 1973. Cortez's suit alleges that the abuse outlasted Burke's time in the clergy and stretched from 1970-78.

Burke committed suicide by shooting himself in September 2005. His suicide note did not include any admissions to the molestation allegations, according to police. However, in a phone message to a Denver newspaper reporter on the eve of his suicide, Burke reportedly admitted some of the allegations. Cortez is one of three known Burke accusers. In Burke's exit letter to the Vatican, he mentioned that he suffered from an unspecified psychosexual behavior disorder, according to a Pueblo police report. After leaving the priesthood, Burke worked locally in the mental health field.

Central to Cortez's suit is the allegation, based on Burke's letter to the Vatican, that the diocese was aware of Burke's proclivities and nonetheless unleashed him on a new set of unsuspecting victims by allowing him to adopt the lay life without reporting what was already known about his behavior.

“Andrew Burke was a known pedophile, but the diocese says it's not responsible for what he did,” Cortez said. “They should have notified the authorities about what they knew.”

In its response to the suit, the diocese denied knowledge of Burke's alleged behavior while he was a priest. The diocese also stated in the response that it was not liable for any acts Burke may have committed subsequent to leaving the priesthood.

The diocese responded to many of the accusations contained in Cortez's suit by claiming to have insufficient information to admit or deny them.

“They've said they believe me, but now they deny in their court filing that they believe me. So which is it?” Cortez said. “That's apparently their legal approach to these kinds of things. It's pretty standard for the Catholic Church to deny (accusations) or say they don't have enough information to answer accusations in lawsuits.”


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