Priest May Be Too Ill to Fight Sex Charges
Attorney Says Man Affected by Dementia

By Jim Schaefer
Detroit Free Press
September 13, 2002

The Wayne County prosecutor called the Rev. Robert Burkholder one of the worst pedophiles ever in Michigan.

But Burkholder, one of four current or former priests charged last month in Detroit with molesting boys long ago, may never be forced to leave his home in Hawaii to stand trial here.

His lawyer, Irving Tukel of Bingham Farms, said Thursday the elderly Catholic priest has dementia. Tukel plans to ask for a competency examination in Hawaii, a move that Wayne County prosecutors are not contesting. "It is apparent to anyone who has had any contact with Rev. Burkholder that he is in dementia," Tukel said. "The people who deal with him on a daily basis in Hawaii have said so. These people have no reason to fabricate. They're just neighbors who look in on him as an elderly man who needs help."

Tukel said he plans to argue that his client shouldn't be prosecuted because of his mental condition.

Burkholder, whose age has been given variously as 82, 83 and 86, lives by himself in Honolulu, Tukel said. He gets lost while driving and cannot hold coherent conversations, Tukel said.

Since he was charged last month, Burkholder has admitted to several reporters over the phone that he molested boys.

In interviews with the Free Press before and after he was charged, Burkholder said the case against him was "ancient history" and "wickedness."

"What I did was wrong," he said. "But it was a sickness, and I was treated for months and years."

Kevin Simowski, chief of operations for the prosecutor's office, said his office has asked for an extradition hearing in Hawaii. A date was not set Thursday, but prosecutors will not object to Burkholder requesting a competency exam, Simowski said.

The other three current or former priests charged last month have been arraigned. Burkholder is charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly assaulting a 13-year-old boy in the mid-1980s.

The priest moved to Hawaii in 1981 after serving in the Archdiocese of Detroit for 34 years.

Last month, Prosecutor Michael Duggan said he was able to bring charges against the four because they all moved out of the state years ago before the statute of limitations expired on criminal charges, stopping the clock.

At the time, Duggan branded Burkholder as "one of the worst pedophiles we have ever had in this state."

The priest has been barred from ministry since 1993, when he allegedly admitted in a letter to archdiocesan officials to molesting 23 boys since 1949.

In a 1994 lawsuit brought by Michael Mason, the one-time student at St. Hugh in Southgate claimed Burkholder molested him in 1968 when he was 12. The court ruled Mason failed to sue before the statute of limitations expired.

On Thursday, Mason's father, Larry Mason, said he was bothered that Burkholder may not have to face the criminal charges.

"But if he's in that condition . . . not a heck of a lot will be accomplished," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.