Judge Allows Lawsuit against Priest to Go Forward

The Associated Press, carried in [Detroit MI]
June 20, 2003

DETROIT (AP) -- A Wayne County judge has ruled that a lawsuit charging decades-old sexual abuse by a now defrocked Catholic priest can go forward.

Thursday's ruling comes despite the fact that the offenses allegedly made by Robert Burkholder took place in the 1970s, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Circuit Judge John Gillis' ruling has the potential to prompt numerous other lawsuits by people who previously thought they would not be successful because of Michigan's statute of limitations.

A man referred to in court papers as John Doe says in the lawsuit that he was abused by Burkholder while his family attended Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Detroit in the 1970s.

The man is suing Burkholder and the archdiocese.

"As far as I know, this is the first time a lower court in Michigan has adopted this legal theory of fraudulent concealment in this kind of case," the man's attorney, Cyril Weiner of Southfield, said after Thursday's hearing.

Weiner argued in court that the Archdiocese of Detroit was aware of Burkholder's abuse and became a partner in his crimes by fraudulently concealing complaints and moving him from parish to parish.

Archdiocesan records indicate that, in the 1950s and '60s, Burkholder was moved through a half-dozen local parishes. In 1970, he was reassigned as a hospital chaplain, a post he held for the final decade of his career before he was given sick leave in 1981 and early retirement in 1984.

In the 1990s, Burkholder admitted to Catholic officials that he had molested nearly two dozen boys during his career. He spent 30 days in jail in November for sexual misconduct in the 1980s.

Gillis and archdiocesan attorney Thomas Van Dusen declined to comment. Burkholder's attorney, Irving Tukel, could not be reached.


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