Horseheads Priest Forced out

By Charlie Coon
Star-Gazette (Elmira, NY)
May 3, 2002

HORSEHEADS - The pastor at St. Mary Our Mother Church was forced to resign on Thursday because of a more-than-20-year-old allegation of sexual misconduct.

The Rev. Thomas W. Burr, 67, was asked to step down from his post by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester. Clark said he and Burr met personally on Thursday.

"(Burr) acknowledged the truth of it and was willing to move on in light of our policies," Clark said Thursday in a phone interview with the Star-Gazette.

Clark did not elaborate on Burr's offense other than to say it involved the "violation" of one, possibly two male teens. The bishop said he had received no complaints about Burr since Burr became pastor in 1994 at St. Mary Our Mother, 816 W. Broad St., Horseheads.

Burr from 1990 to 1994 was pastor at St. Anthony's Church, West Washington Avenue, Elmira.

Burr was one of three priests from the Rochester Diocese to be fired on Wednesday and Thursday for alleged sexual misconduct. The others served in the Rochester area - the Rev. Foster Rogers, pastor of St. Pius X Church in Chili, and the Rev. David Simon, pastor of St. Paul Church in Webster.

All three were accused of engaging in "inappropriate behavior with teens" more than 20 years ago, Clark said, adding that none of the three have been accused of misconduct since Clark became bishop in 1979.

Clark said the firings resulted because the victims of the misconduct "renewed their concerns that offenders were still ministering."

Clark, when asked why Burr was fired over something that happened so long ago, said it was the right thing to do out of consideration for Burr's alleged victim. Letting the incident simply fade away was not an option, Clark said.

"I don't think that's possible or desirable, in a community that relies so deeply in trust and confidence in those who minister in the name of the church," Clark said.

"When the pain is so long-lasting, it's my judgment that the healing process of the person offended is obstructed as long as the offender is in a position to hurt somebody else."

Michael Tedesco, a diocese spokesman, said Burr will receive a modest pension and health benefits and, by virtue of his age, will be eligible to collect Social Security.

Tedesco said Burr will remain a priest but will not be allowed to exercise priestly functions, such as celebrating Mass, hearing confession, performing baptisms and marriages, offering Communion or administering last rites.

The Star-Gazette was unable to contact Burr for comment. A phone message left late Thursday afternoon with the church rectory's answering service was not returned.

Clark said his representatives met Thursday with St. Mary Our Mother Church leaders to "begin the process of dealing with this very painful reality, and get some sense on how to move ahead from here."

Clark said there are two other priests at St. Mary Our Mother - the Rev. Robert MacNamara, who is retired, and the Rev. Stephen Karani - who will help the church function in Burr's absence. Clark said he will visit St. Mary Our Mother on May 25 and 26 to offer assistance.

The firings come at a time when the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is being bombarded with accusations of sexual molestation by priests. Another Southern Tier priest, the Rev. Joseph Brodnick, the chaplain at St. Joseph's Hospital in Elmira, resigned last month after allegations surfaced that he sexually abused a teen-age girl in Ohio in the 1970s.

The problem has become so acute that Pope John Paul II last week met with the nation's cardinals in Rome.

The church leaders emerged from the meeting saying action was desperately needed to stem the clergy sex abuse crisis. But they were left to wrestle with such questions as:

" Must all past and future allegations be referred to the police, as many bishops are now deciding to do?

" Should lay parishioners be given new power to monitor bishops' and priests' conduct?

" Does one abusive act automatically mean a priest should be defrocked?

Clark said answers should begin to emerge during the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to be held June 11-13 in Dallas.

In the meantime, Clark said he has decided to fire any priest against whom credible allegations of sexual misconduct are made. He also said procedures will be established to report priests suspected of the sexual molestation to the police.

Clark said three other priests in the diocese - the Rev. Robert O'Neill (retired), the Rev. William Lum and the Rev. Thomas Corbett - were either stripped of their authority or restricted. Two other priests are being investigated over incidents that happened more than 10 years ago, Clark said.

Clark said he still holds Burr in "the highest regard."

"(Burr) is somebody I respect," Clark said. "He is still my brother priest, and I hope to still have a constructive relationship as long as we're around.

"He made a very, very bad mistake a number years ago and is paying dearly for it now, and so are those whose trust he abused."

Burr's career

Appointments of the Rev. Thomas W. Burr:

" June 27, 1961 - Assistant, St. Boniface, Rochester.

" June 23, 1964 - Latin and music instructor, St. Andrew Seminary, Rochester.

" June 29, 1965 - Assistant, St. Rita, Webster.

" June 25, 1970 - Assistant, St. Andrew, Rochester.

" Dec. 15, 1971 - Assistant pastor, St. Ambrose, Rochester.

" June 23, 1976 - Pastor, St. Joachim, Canisteo, and St. Mary, Rexville.

" June 26, 1990 - Pastor, St. Anthony, Elmira.

" June 28, 1994 - Pastor, St. Mary Our Mother, Horseheads.

Information sought

Anyone who wishes to report apparent sexual misconduct within the Diocese of Rochester is asked to call Barbara Pedeville at 585/328-3228, Ext. 215, or the Rev. Bob Ring at 315/536-7459. The toll-free number for the diocesan Pastoral Center is 800/388-7177.


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