Anne Burke Gave the Catholic Bishops More Reform Than They Were Ready For…and Thus Becomes the Leading Exponent of Change
Tough-Minded Illinois Jurist Put the Bishops on the Spot. an Exclusive Interview Tells How She Was Picked: a PR Agency's Goof

By Thomas F. Roeser
August 19, 2006

CHICAGO — When Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Marie Burke was named to the "National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People" by the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the general attitude of authenticist Catholics in this, her hometown, was ho-hum. Eddie Burke's wife would do the regular establishmentarian white-wash of the bishops, would issue a report that would merely slap their wrists. How wrong they were and how badly we misjudged her will be outlined in this and subsequent columns. For Justice Burke-now a member of the Illinois Supreme Court-has spent several hours in the past weeks in exclusive discussions with The Wanderer.

We talked about it in one of a series of meetings, on- and off-the-record. She understood why Chicagoans particularly thought she would go easy on the bishops. She appeared a very establishment lady: for one thing, the Lady-half of the Knights of Malta. For another, as part of the city's first-ranking (topping even the Daleys in some people's estimation) clout-heavy Irish Catholic Democratic family it would be expected that she'd protect the nation's Catholic hierarchy. Beyond lineage, she had all the credentials: a friend of the Kennedys. Former board member of left-leaning DePaul University. Charter member of a circle of prominent liberal women close to the city's premier newswoman, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed, the feminist who carries a man's first-name.

Her appointment by the bishops was regarded as superbly political because, in Chicago Democratic politics, the Burkes are equivalent to the Cabots in 19th century Boston-the Cabots who spoke only to the Lodges and the Lodges who spoke only to God. In today's Chicago Irish Democratic lineage, the Burkes are the elite white wine and brie while the Daleys, technically a notch higher, have always been the corn beef and cabbage. (The Madigans, father Speaker of the House and daughter state attorney general, are, for some reason, thought of as on a lower rung).

Yep, in Chicago it's the Burkes. That is especially more so these days since Alderman Eddie Burke, Anne's husband, has moved beyond his family's historic servitor role in politics. .

His father, Joe, began as bailiff in the Criminal Court whose main job was to announce, "Hats off! Order in the court, the Honorable Judge [supply the name] presiding: God save this honorable court and the United States of America!" and go to the backroom to play cards with his friends. Then, having played his cards right, he was allowed to run for alderman of his South Side ward where he became an obedient hack. But his son Eddie, who succeeded Joe, is vastly better educated. Eddie runs the most powerful zoning law firm in the city from which he has made zillions from astute legal skill plus part-time as the most powerful member of the council, chairman of Finance, dean of the city council and chairman of the special Cook county Democratic party committee that picks judge candidates for election who almost always win in the machine county of Cook.

As oft-honored Catholic layman, Eddie Burke, a former seminarian and -Chicago cop for a short time while he studied law, has been Catholic Lawyer of the Year, winner of the Rerum Novarum award from the archdiocese's St. Joseph seminary; Man of the Year for the Illinois-Ireland chamber of commerce; given the Pax et Bonum award by St. Peter's Catholic Church in the Loop, conferred the title of Outstanding Civic Servant of the National Conference of Christians and Jews; hailed as Father of the Year by Chicago's Father's Day committee; cheered as Irishman of the Year by the Chicago Limerick Association; handed the Man of the Year award by the Chicago Police Captains association; and recipient of the highest award from the Order of the Holy Family Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest; given the top award for the leadership at the Cenacle Catholic Retreat House; lauded as Man of the Year for the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago, headed the Celtic Lawyers club and chairman of the Irish Fellowship Club. In addition, he has been given signal recognition for his status as City Council dean: a police bodyguard to escort him throughout the city, though no one has ever heard that he has been threatened in any way.

He has taken unto himself the trappings of prestige-allowing his hair not just to turn white but, some people swear, having his barber give it a rinse akin to a transfiguration so that when you turn out the lights you can see it glow. A trim 165 lbs and 5 feet nine, he wears exclusively tailored suits, polished shoes with mirror finishes that reflect up to his ruddy finely chiseled face. He sports expensive Kelly green brocaded ties from Stuart's of Michigan Avenue and has a matching, flowing kerchief in his breast pocket. An aristocrat, he is known for his personal dislikes: one of whom is me, stemming for a column on him I did for the Tribune from which he took offense. It led him to pass the word that he would not talk to me ever again until I apologized. The apology didn't come so shortly thereafter the paper said my column-writing services were no longer needed. Let me say we are not particularly close.

In his sixties, he is the lawyer to go to if you are a corporation which wants consideration from the city-for which he has to go to the bother of recusing himself from conflict-of-interest votes scores of times on the council floor. He is a brilliant raconteur of Chicago history, has a deft sense of humor, is a matchless pianist-better than anyone you could hire-is an author of an interesting book on the political conventions held in this city. Every city lawyer with a hankering to become a judge wakes up each morning thinking about, and well of, Eddie Burke. From earliest on, he had been on a confidante basis with Chicago's archbishops. So has his wife Anne-until recently.

In recent years, Eddie Burke's political tastes have gone rather exotic. He has outlawed smoking in restaurants and gone it one better, voting to ban the delicacy foie gras from dining establishments. He feels that the procedure of force-feeding ducks and geese feed to swell their livers and thus make them more appetizing causes them pain and is atrocious. Moreover he is considering outlawing trans-fatty foods in restaurants. All these things infuriate his rival Mayor Richard M. Daley, particularly the fatty foods exclusion. Daley, who envies Burke's genuinely aristocratic style, has had sufficient trouble with the English language that he suspects his aldermanic adversary is mimicking him-exasperating enough without Eddie Burke seeking to deny him the butter-broiled steaks he devours at Gibson's on Rush street.

For a long time, many Chicagoans thought Anne Burke was an Eddie Burke go-along. Not so. Decidedly not so. Born on the same south side of Chicago as Eddie, to a bartender's family, Burke assuredly was a Democrat, too but not from a prominent Democratic family, started out as a park district physical education teacher. Anne Marie McGlone became very interested in seeing that mentally retarded kids get the same chance at playing in the parks as the other kids, which brought her to the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a child of Joseph P. and Rose Kennedy who has made quite a point of being actively interested in the mentally retarded (because of her retarded sister Rosemary who died a few years ago) as well as being pro-life (along with her husband Sargent Shriver), the only member of the Kennedy clan aside from her mother Rose to be such.

Eunice and Anne got along famously. They are of the Leo XIII-Pius XI Rerum Novarum-Quadragesimo Anno school of social compassion. Eunice was given the idea by Anne of starting a first Special Olympics for retarded people that was first held at Soldier Field in 1968. Anne did all the work and Eunice got all the credit as Kennedys are prone to-but as time went on and the hugely successful Chicago Special Olympics was enlarged into a preeminent international Special Olympics, its success has been correctly credited to its originator, Anne Burke.

Anne and Eddie married a year after the Special Olympics was started and their family began to grow. After Eddie got prominent in politics, Anne received her bachelor's degree from DePaul and took her law degree from Chicago Kent College of Law at age 40. She opened up a very diverse neighborhood family law practice, specializing in the interests of children in matters of abuse, neglect, delinquency and parental custody. She and Eddie have had five children, one of whom is deceased and some years ago adopted a black baby boy, born with a cocaine addiction from his mother whom the courts determined was unable to care for her child. But it was not easy to adopt the baby. Their struggle to win the adoption fight drew national attention and went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which granted them that right.

The first indication that Anne Burke may not be fully of her husband's full Democratic stripe came when she was appointed to a judgeship on the Court of Claims by Republican governor James Thompson in 1987. Seven years later she resigned to accept an offer from another Republican governor, Jim Edgar, to become his special counsel for child welfare services at a very difficult time when the state's child welfare program was in serious disarray. Then she seemed to return to the Democratic fold by being appointed to the Illinois Appellate Court, an appointment that was assuredly steered by husband Eddie.

It was at that point that Anne Burke seemed a permanent fixture of the Catholic establishment of Chicago and the nation. Catholic Irish Democratic political families, like most other families, like very much to be warmly regarded by priests, bishops, archbishops and Cardinals and the Burkes were no exception. They were on the social A-list, meaning they were regarded favorably, by Cardinals Albert Meyer, John Cody, Joseph Bernardin and Francis George. For being on the A-list of Catholic big names, it is expected they receive approbation from prelates in return for which it is expected that be suitably deferential laity, to say "yes, your excellency"…"no Your Eminence"…of course, Monsignor" to that one day they could say, "Yes, your Holiness". That was the expected direction for Anne Burke.

But that direction slowly, imperceptibly, started to veer off course when Anne received a telephone call at her judge's chambers from a faceless monsignor. The reputation of the hierarchy was being threatened by the pedophilia scandal in Boston which, seemingly like a string of firecrackers, detonated pop-pop-pop-pop in other dioceses including Chicago. At a meeting in Dallas in June, 2002 the Catholic bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and instituted the National Review Board. The phone caller asked if she would give thought to serving on the Review Board if she were to be asked.

Who was the monsignor? Nobody Anne Burke knew very well. He didn't seem to have a direct line to the bishops. But he was fishing to get her answer. And he didn't really seem to know much of what he was talking about. He said he was asked to make the call, asked by someone he didn't really identify with clarity. This is one of the not-surprising features of the Catholic bishops that, increasingly, this Wanderer reporter has learned since writing about the hierarchy. Most everything happened ad hoc, without planning. A source at the NCCB who desperately didn't want to be quoted had this description: "Most of them [the bishops] around here in prominent positions can't organize a three-car funeral."

Still, this Wanderer reporter persisted. One thinks-or would hope-that the organization of the U. S. Catholic bishops would run with clarity and purpose like a finely attuned instrument. The Wanderer tried to discover the identity of the monsignor who called Anne Burke. Not much luck. It could be any number of men. The organization, if it can be called that, runs like an idling automobile engine, unable to go unless put in gear which is not often. Using its own sources beginning at the NCCB headquarters in Washington, D. C., then moving to New York, this reporter determined that, incredible as it seems, the central idea for the Charter as well as for the National Review Board was initiated by a New York public relations agency hired by someone representing the bishops-a p.r. agency which has no identifiable touch with Catholicism but is staffed, as many public relations agencies in New York happen to be, by seculars with prominent Jews-and not necessarily observant ones-as its top executives. Indubitably, a p. r. agency headed or staffed by persons of any religious persuasion except, perhaps Muslims, could have been better suited to advise prelates how to handle cases of sexual indiscretion. But this agency tackled the assignment as a commercial venture.

"They tackled it [the problem of priestly pedophilia] as a public relations problem-the same as might be confronted by a large corporation which has had some executives dabbling in that sort of thing," said a public relations official close to the issue. "It occurred to them that a Charter should be written and a review board of prominent people set up. Prominent people with a different spread of names and backgrounds so as to get maximum media attention. There was no-absolutely no-litmus test on what kind of Catholics they were or what they believed, for instance on abortion. For one thing the p.r. firm didn't know much about it any article of Faith. The names were picked much like you would select for any random group and their list was given to the bishops. The names were mulled over, culled over by someone, nobody really knows who. Brief, cursory phone calls were made and the list was announced. That was it."


Which answers the question which has long dogged authenticist Catholics: why were some supporters of abortion rights picked for the Review Board, such as Leon Panetta, the top staffer to President Bill Clinton, who as Congressman from California supported abortion and who at the White House supported, and may well have advised, Clinton to veto the partial birth abortion bill that passed the Congress? Who picked Panetta? Some authenticists blamed Roger Cardinal Mahony of California. Mahony didn't even know that Panetta was on the list. Who picked Anne Burke-either Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Illinois who was once stationed as a priest in Chicago…or Francis Cardinal George of Chicago? Neither. A p.r. agency in New York working from a Google list of prominent Catholics. The goal of the Board, according to a source The Wanderer has in New York p. r. circles was this: to be nicey-nice, to convince the media that the church was doing something and to be careful not to zing the bishops. I. e.: handle it as a political problem..

While the p.r. agency didn't know or even consider how members of the group felt on abortion, possibly-and rightly for them-viewing that out of its competence and a matter to be adjudged by the bishops, the staff of the bishops and such bishops themselves who were consulted, raced to keep a deadline, culled some names and rubber-stamped the rest. The source told me that Anne Burke's name was on the list from the first and slated by the p.r. agency as vice chairman because the chairman would be a man and she is a woman. Also somebody at the agency thought it would be good to have not just a woman but a woman judge. Somebody called her with the vague suggestion that she might be picked. When she didn't object her name stayed on until she was formally called and accepted with very little instructions given as to what might be expected. .

That's how Anne Burke was named vice-chairman. Along with her was Robert Bennett, the prominent Washington, D. C. attorney, chief defense lawyer for President Clinton during the impeachment battle and brother of William Bennett, President Reagan's education secretary.

The secular p. r. agency guessed the best thing was to have a prominent male public official to head the Board. It recommended Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma. The bishops rubber-stamped it. But Keating, although an authenticist Catholic, was nevertheless temperamentally unsuitable and emotionally unable to lead the board for the same reasons, some second-guessers believe, that he was ultimately nixed for service on the Bush cabinet. Keating, a former FBI agent and ex-federal prosecutor, approached the job from the outset as a prosecutor even before the research was done-fighting the bishops initially even before there was anything to fight about and fighting also with his fellow committee members. Other members wondered how in the world he ever negotiated with the Oklahoma legislature. But it was too late. Keating loved the media.

Not long after the Board began, Keating was expostulating to the media without grounds. One quote which went nation-wide was this. When asked the speculative question about a possible grand jury subpoena, Keating went through the roof to the media: "To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away: that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church. To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy." [Italics mine]. Of course, these remarks caused Keating's fellow members to explode and prompted a sector of the bishops to demand his ouster.

Keating found he didn't have support on the Board or from the bishops: understandably enough after his frequent media tirades. So he left-half on his own volition, half being pushed. That meant that Anne Burke, a Justice of the Illinois Court of Appeals, would take over the reins as interim chairman. All along, she was believed, as an A-list Chicago Irish Democratic Catholic, to be someone who would play along with the bishops in patty-cake fashion and approve a boiler-plate report ghosted by a number of p. r. types. How wrong they were and how Anne Burke kept the committee together, crafted an intellectually honest and far-reaching report that jolted many bishops and p. r. types will be divulged next week.


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