Priest Pleads Guilty to Sexual Abuse
Crime: Jesuit, 80, Admits to Molesting a Mentally Disabled Worker at a Church Facility in the 1990s
Sentencing Is Set for June 28

By Glenn F. Bunting
Los Angeles Times
May 24, 2002

An 80-year-old Catholic priest pleaded guilty Thursday to sexually abusing a mentally disabled man during the 1990s at a Jesuit retreat overlooking the Santa Clara Valley.

Father Edward Thomas Burke faces a maximum three years in state prison for molesting a 50-year-old former kitchen worker at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos.

Burke is the second Jesuit at Sacred Heart to be prosecuted for a felony sex crime. Brother Charles Leonard Connor, also 80, served six months of home detention last year after being convicted of committing a lewd act on a disabled adult.

Connor and Burke are among four Jesuits accused in a lawsuit of repeatedly sodomizing and molesting two mentally retarded workers who still live at the facility. Attorneys for the two plaintiffs, who are seeking more than $10 million in damages, are continuing to negotiate a financial settlement with the California Province of the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits.

The claims against Burke came to the attention of law enforcement following a March 24 story in The Times, which disclosed that four Jesuits were registered sex offenders in Northern California. Documents show that some Jesuit leaders declined to notify authorities when they learned of the allegations against Connor and Burke.

Jesuit superiors quickly transferred Burke in April 2000 when he admitted to sexual misconduct with one of the men, documents show. Burke, who was not reported to police, moved to the Jesuit residence at Bellarmine College Preparatory, an all-boys high school in San Jose. He now lives at a nursing home in San Jose.

The guilty plea, which was entered with no conditions attached, came at a routine arraignment hearing before prosecutors were required to present their case. Burke's attorney, Charles Hendrickson, said his client hopes that Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy will consider the priest's age, declining health and early plea at his sentencing June 28.

The victim, identified in court papers as James Doe, and his family members are entitled to appear at the sentencing hearing. Debra Sullivan, the victim's sister, has said she wants to see Burke go to jail. Sullivan said her family was betrayed by Burke, who spent hours alone with the victim by posing as his friend.

Burke's punishment could range from probation and electronic monitoring to a reduced incarceration in county jail.

"We will look at all of the evidence in the case and decide what we think the proper sentence should be," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ben Field. "That includes the defendant's age and the fact that he has lived a long life with no known criminal offenses. But it also includes some facts that weigh heavily against him.... He was in a position of trust and the person he sexually abused happened to be extremely vulnerable."

Lawyers representing the two plaintiffs in the civil suit said Burke's plea would work in their clients' favor.

"It's a slam-dunk," said Robert L. Mezzetti II. "Their civil litigation is over as far as Father Burke goes. There is no more claiming it didn't happen or it was somebody else's fault."'

If no settlement is reached, the civil suit is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 15.


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