Isle Man Sues in Church Sex Abuse

By Curtis Lum
Honolulu Advertiser
January 23, 2009

A Hawai'i man has filed a lawsuit against a former priest and the Roman Catholic Church of Hawai'i, alleging the priest attempted to sexually assault the man when he was a minor more than 20 years ago.

The plaintiff, listed only as "John Doe" in the complaint, is accusing convicted child molester Robert Burkholder of "forcibly" attempting to assault him in March 1984. The lawsuit, which was filed in state Circuit Court by attorney David Gierlach, alleges that the incident led to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as criminal conduct by the plaintiff.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Roman Catholic Church knew Burkholder was a sexual predator, but allowed him to work in Hawai'i. The church, the lawsuit alleges, "concealed its knowledge of Burkholder's proclivity to molest youngsters and continued to place Burkholder in positions where he would have contact with youngsters, including the plaintiff."

The man is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and attorneys fees.

A spokesman for the church could not be reached for comment. Burkholder's whereabouts was not known.

In August 2002, Burkholder, then a Makaha resident, was indicted in Michigan on two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was one of four Roman Catholic priests who were charged with sexual assault in cases that date from the 1960s to 1980s.

Burkholder was accused of assaulting a 13-year-old Detroit boy in 1986 when the two were on a trip to Hawai'i. Michigan prosecutors, who characterized Burkholder as "one of the worst pedophiles" in Michigan, said the trip was an eighth-grade graduation present to the boy.

In November 2002, Burkholder, then 83, pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to 30 days in prison and five years' probation.

Burkholder was ordained in 1947 and retired in 1985. He had moved to Hawai'i in 1981 and a year later began working as a contract military chaplain at the Army's Schofield Barracks.

Burkholder helped with Mass at St. Elizabeth Church in 'Aiea, but was not a parish priest and didn't join the Hawai'i archdiocese. It was unknown how long Burkholder continued working here, but he was prohibited from working with the church when the Archdiocese of Detroit banned him from wearing the collar and presenting himself as a priest in 1993.

Although he was convicted in just one case, Burkholder has admitted to molesting children in the 1940s and 1950s.

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