Suit Alleging Abuse by Priest Prompts Criminal Investigation
Santa Clara County: The D.A. may file charges in sex case involving a mentally disabled man

By Glenn F. Bunting
Los Angeles Times
April 3, 2002

Los Gatos, Calif. - Law enforcement authorities are investigating allegations that a priest molested a mentally disabled man at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center here between 1996 and 2000.

A detective for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday spent 2 1/2 hours interviewing a 50-year-old former kitchen worker at Sacred Heart who previously claimed he had been abused by Father Edward Thomas Burke, 80.

"The investigation is progressing," said Sgt. Dianne L. Camarda, who scheduled a follow-up interview with the victim. "I want to make sure things are set in stone."

The Times reported last month that Burke admitted in April 2000 that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with the victim. Jesuit superiors at Sacred Heart immediately relocated Burke to a residence at Santa Clara University, but neglected to notify authorities of his sexual misconduct.

Burke is one of four Jesuits named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that two mentally retarded men were subjected to repeated acts of sodomy, molestation and false imprisonment at Sacred Heart, a retreat in the foothills overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. Attorneys representing the California Province of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, are continuing to negotiate a financial settlement with lawyers for the two victims. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $10 million in damages.

Burke, a former librarian, was reassigned last week from the residence on the Santa Clara University campus to another Jesuit facility.

Victoria Brown, supervising deputy district attorney of Santa Clara County's sexual assault unit, confirmed the Burke investigation and said prosecutors are awaiting Camarda's report. "We need the investigation to be completed" before considering whether to file charges, she said.

Attorneys for the Jesuits and Burke declined to comment.

The claims involving Burke came to the attention of authorities on March 24, when a Times story disclosed the allegations against the four Jesuits in the civil suit. "I had never heard anything about sodomy until I saw the article," Camarda said.

Two years ago, Camarda investigated allegations made by the two victims, identified in court papers as "John Doe" and "James Doe," that they had been subjected to repeated sexual abuse.

Father Thomas H. Smolich, head of the California Province, has acknowledged that Burke and Brother Charles Leonard Connor took advantage of the mentally disabled men.

According to a three-page memo by a former superior at Sacred Heart, Burke admitted in 2000 that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with James. The superior, Father Richard Cobb, wrote that Burke told him: "How long has this happened? About four years--in his room.... Yes, there has been some sexual contact in my room. Last sexual contact, three weeks ago, in [James'] room."

Connor, 80, also named in the suit, was convicted last year of committing a felony lewd act on a dependent adult. He served six months of home detention and now lives in a Jesuit residence in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Connor's conviction was based on statements to authorities by John Doe, 56. In the Burke case, James Doe was unwilling two years ago to discuss sexual abuses, Camarda said.

"[James] didn't want to talk about that," Camarda said. "I can't make him. You can't have a crime without a victim."

Recently, James Doe's sister, Debra Sullivan, testified in a deposition taken as part of the lawsuit that James told her Burke had committed sodomy against him.

Sullivan said she wants Burke sent to jail for abusing her brother. She had declined to file a criminal complaint against Burke on the advice of her lawyer, Sullivan said.

Burke could face up to three years in state prison if convicted of engaging in a lewd act with a dependent adult.


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