Anne Burke Out-Manuevers the Bishops, Gets John Jay Rep[ort Detailing Clerical Sexual Abuse Correction, Hires Tough Female FBI Agent to Supervise
Confronts Bishop in Showdown: "You Lied to Me, Didn't You?"
Another Story on Anne Burke Vis-â -Vis Catholic Bishops in the Wanderer, the Nation's Oldest National Catholic Weekly

By Thomas F. Roeser
August 24, 2006

CHICAGO — Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, in her second Wanderer interview, freely acknowledges that she is a traitor to her class. She is supposed to be the compleat Irish Catholic Democrat in this town and the nation: a friend of Eunice Kennedy, a liberal who like many pols enjoys fraternizing with well-known bishops and Cardinals. That's how she was regarded when she was selected by a New York city p. r. firm, dominated by non-Catholic and secular Jewish executives retained by the nation's Catholic bishops.

Burke is Establishment. They were right about that. It's why she was made second in command of a blue-ribbon board that was to conduct a study of priestly pedophilia. But they were wrong about one thing: They thought she would lend her judge's authority to a tame report that she would allow to be forgotten. Then she and her buddies on the Board were to be nice little deferential laypersons, accept a "well done" celebratory dinner and go back home. Then the bishops would be free to turn to more urgent matters-like the most recent semantic retranslation of the liturgy as soon as Catholics got used to the latest retranslation.

But things went wrong. First, as explained last week, Burke is un-bought and un-bossed, is a tough lawyer dating from when she ran a neighborhood law firm on the southwest side of a rough man's city. Second, because she is a mother, concerned that nobody, least of all a priest, will make a pass at one of her kids. Third because she is politically perceptive, knowing how to handle pressure by a sanctimonious group including one armed with crosiers and miters. Fourth, because unlike modern wimpy liberals, she is the old-fashioned kind who can counter-punch easily.

And fifth, most important: When Republican Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma self-detonated into impotence she succeeded to the helm of the National Review Board which changed the nature of the body dramatically.

Many bishops were happy when she took over, convinced that a so-called squishy liberal Democratic female, close to a branch of the Kennedys, was now in charge who would go easy on them. They learned soon enough to wish Keating had returned.

Anne Burke was stunned to discover that the pompously-named "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" initiated by the p.r. firm in the bishops' names did not mandate any final report. It was meant to be a puff piece, a white paper designed to get favorable press. She decided there would be a report-a thoroughly documented one. From that day on, there was war between certain bishops who wanted to sweep the scandals under the rug and Burke who wanted to (a) investigate the charges, (b) recommend a tough course of action and (c) install a watchdog to guard against future priest predators of children-a watchdog with teeth.

"I knew when Keating left and the job fell to me that the prevailing attitude of most of the bishops would be to turn out a p. r. document and go home," she told this Wanderer reporter. It was a second lengthy meeting which was cut short because she had to dash out to noon Mass for the Feast of the Assumption. "But I was not going to repeat Keating's mistake and try to run the thing alone," she said. "It would have to be done collegially."

The Board formed subcommittees which would dig in to the nitty-gritty. She said the decision-making would be made by a Committee of the Whole, akin to the Congress. The first requirement was to get a handle on how bad clerical abuse was across the nation. Talking it over with Robert Bennett (one of the most prestigious lawyers in Washington and brother of former education secretary William Bennett), she felt they should make their own investigation rather than rely on the bishops' word that everything was o.k. The Board agreed. They decided to hire a comprehensive study of charges of clerical sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons going back to 1950.

Immediately there was a backlash. This was not what was intended, said some bishops. Anne Burke said, "wait a minute. You don't want us to issue a report without having the facts, do you?'

Well, er, er, er, no, said the bishops' bureaucracy. "Fine," she said. "We're going to do a report and we need your cooperation." They hired the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. A comprehensive questionnaire was given to people who had reported clerical abuse. "Some of them wanted a white-wash," said Burke. "Well, not on my watch and not on the watch of any of the people who were named to the Board."

To collect information, Bennett, a seasoned lawyer who defended Bill Clinton on charges of impeachment and had successfully warded off his conviction by the U. S. Senate, suggested that the information be gained through a hallowed legal procedure-"deposition", where the bishops testify in private hearings. That detonated another explosion.

Then Burke fired a return salvo. Worried that their report would be filed in a dead letter office, she used Chicago street-smarts to (a) find a superb cop to supervise the bishops' actions on sexual abuse cases and (c) convince the USCCB to hire the cop. After a score of candidates were interviewed, theBoard recommended the bishops hire the FBI's chief agent in Chicago, Kathleen McChesney, to head an Office of Child and Youth Protection. Getting the bishops to hire a cop who would supervise them should rate a special chapter in a case history of diplomacy: evidence that Burke is not all blunderbuss but has highly attuned negotiative skills.

McChesney, a Catholic, was the highest ranking female FBI official in the Justice Department and number three in the entire agency. She holds a doctorate in public administration and has over 30 years experience in law enforcement. She would assist dioceses in setting up "safe environment" programs and assist them in installing appropriate mechanisms to audit adherence to the policies,

McChesney was found by Anne Burke as part of a national network of women professionals-and because she knew McChesney, Burke abstained in the final vote that hired her. McChesney came across as a no-nonsense administrator who was determined to run a tight ship. Immediately, explosions from many bishops started to rock the Board. The idea of audits and a tough law enforcement official to police priestly pedophilia somehow, gave many bishops the jitters.

"Gee," said Burke, "after all those eloquent sermons on TV about how they were going to change the system, it turned out they didn't want to after all.. Surprise, surprise."

There had to be a face-to-face showdown and it came when Burke and the Board went to the home turf of the bishops-a place few people have seen, the headquarters of the NCCB in Washington that the bishops had built for themselves, near Catholic University. A marble palace, with ornate fixtures and tapestries, festooned with oil paintings and subdued lighting, long halls stretching in the distance, with quiet private offices staffed by laity and priests who speak in hushed tones. Not unlike the cavern housing the Chamber of Commerce of the United States-only more ornate.

"Yes-yes. It's very impressive," a Chicago monsignor The Wanderer interviewed about the building-a monsignor not connected with the Review Board but who had been a high aide to a former Chicago archbishop. He chuckled.

"Listen, that building is probably the most lavish place I've seen outside of Rome. Maybe the Louvre. Maybe the Pompidou Center in Paris. And in many respects it rivals them. You should see the huge assembly hall with tables and seats for at least sixty, with microphones at the ready. It looks very much like…" and he struggled to describe it.

But Anne Burke knew what it reminded her of. "The United Nations General Assembly," she said. And she described exactly what the monsignor had told this Wanderer reporter. When The Wanderer checked back with him to confirm the description, he said: "Yes-yes! That's it! The UN General Assembly! Every bishop has his microphone and padded easy-chairs."

The battle was joined. Roger Cardinal Mahony, supposed apostle to the underprivileged and defenseless, didn't want the bishops to be supervised. He was an extraordinarily strict constructionist, insisting that Burke and her confreres were exceeding the rules intended by the Charter. Some years later, on another issue, Mahony was for overthrowing rules and law, saying that Catholics should not obey the federal immigration law but should violate it in the name of social justice.

Burke's bishop, Francis Cardinal George of Chicago was there parsing and taking no ostensible position on the matter whatever, ultimately telling her he abstained from a final vote on the issue. "There were very few bishops who wanted us to continue," said Burke. "Very few. I can count them on one hand. Some great, sanctimonious names who had told the media they wanted to press forward, didn't want it when we gathered in the Great Hall."

They sat down and were called to order by Bishop Wilton Gregory, bishop of Belleville, Illinois, head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was the handsome African American bishop who had delivered such an electrifying address on TV after the pedophilia scandal struck. But it seemed to be a different Bishop Gregory now. Before Burke could begin speaking, a bishop from the assembly began with heated objections. He was allowed to break into the format without objection from Gregory.

She looked at Bishop Gregory to instill order but he looked away. He merely looked around pleasantly and didn't try to make the session run by accepted parliamentary rules. From the audience, the dissenting bishop continued saying "we're not going to participate in any audit!"

"No-no!" other bishops said. "No audit! Uh-uh! No audit!"

Burke tried to have her say and they went back and forth, with Bishop Gregory watching as if he were witnessing a hot tennis match, from one side to the other.

"May I be recognized!" she said as the bishops rumbled. "May I be recognized?" She looked sharply at Bishop Gregory who wasn't eager to wield his gavel to win recognition for her. At last he assented to give her the floor.

"This is how we are going to proceed," she said, using what a colleague told me was a familiar "mother's voice"-a steely voice that commanded attention, drowned the babble and produced silence in the spacious marble canyon. She told them that first her Board members would make statements and then the questions could flow. Clearing his throat timidly, Bishop Gregory seemed to agree.

It was then that she noticed that documents had been distributed at each bishop's place. One letter was from Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop of New York, to Bishop Gregory. The letter said in part:

"At the semi-annual meeting of the bishops and diocesan administrators of the State of New York…the matter of extending the efforts of those who have been conducting the national audit regarding the sexual abuse of minors by clergy was discussed. We write to report that the undersigned bishops and diocesan administrators are not in favor of extending these efforts until after the matter has been discussed by the bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their general meeting in November. The undersigned bishops…"

And they were the bishops and auxiliaries of New York. Other letters at the Bishops' place in the Great Hall were from Justin Cardinal Rigali of Philadelphia ("The undersigned bishops and diocesan administrators also believe it advisable not to give any impression to the media that the numerous recommendations…are in any way assured before they are discussed by the bishops"). It was signed by, among others, bishops Joseph V. Ademec of Altoona-Johnstown; Anthony Bosco, retired of Greensburg; Edward P. Cullen, of Allentown; Nicholas C. Dattilo, of Harrisburg,.

John J. Myers, Newark; Basil M. Schott, Pittsburgh (Byzantine Ruthenioans); Robert P. McGinnis, auxiliary of Philadelphia; Charles J. McDonnell, auxiliary of Newark; Andrew Pataki, eparch of the Byzantine diocese of Passaic; David Arias, auxiliary of Newark; Michael F. Burbidge, auxiliary of Philadelphia; Edgar M.DeCunha, auxiliary of Newarkl John M. Dougherty, auxiliary of Scranton; Joseph F. Martino of Scranton; Thomas J. Morgan, apostolic administrator of Camden.

Frank J. Rodimer, Paterson, N. J.; Arthur J. Serratelli, auxiliary of Newark; Donald Trautman, of Erie; Donald W. Wuerl, then bishop of Pittsburgh (now archbishop of Washington, D. C.); John M. Smith, Trenton; William J. Winter, auxiliary of Pittsburgh.

Yet another letter was included from Henry J. Mansell, archbishop of Hartford: "The bishops of the province of Hartford…requested I write to you to express our concern over disturbing trends in the development of the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People and the National Review Board…We are troubled…when we see the word `independent' being used indiscriminately…A particularly disturbing example is the intervention of the Office in individual cases in various dioceses, and this being carried forward without communication with the local diocesan bishop. The Office appears to be handling cases involving priests and adults…."

"What? Transgressing its mandate by handling adult sex abuse cases?" Burke said later to The Wanderer with an uplifted eyebrow of irony. "Wow!"

The conference in the Great Hall concluded and the participants went to their respective corners. It was a stalemate.

The Board continued its work. Subcommittees held sessions with bishops as the John Jay people did with victims and purported victims. Anne Burke will always remember one session out-of-town with a nationally famous bishop who gave her complete assurance that all instances of sexual hanky-panky were brought to a dead halt in his diocese. The next morning she opened a newspaper and found that the bishop was on the front page, having welcomed a priest-sexual predator as a house guest.

She called the bishop. "Yesterday you assured me that all matters involving the diocese had been cleaned up," she said. "You know, you lied to me, didn't you?"

He said the priest was being used for a theological research job.

She continued, "You lied to me, didn't you."

"No, I didn't."

"Well, the priest you hired was convicted."

"No he wasn't."


"He pled guilty. That's what happened."

"Same thing."

"Well, not exactly-pleading guilty is not the same as being tried and

found guilty."

Burke smiled at that effort at the futile attempt to apply theological hair-splitting to the law. It may make it in a university theological seminar but not in a courtroom.

"Why did he try to snow me?" she said to this reporter. "Did he think he could get away with it because-well, he didn't."

Later she received a denunciatory letter from a bishop who said she was rude in some of her discussions with his colleagues. Then it became clear that she would never be given the title of Chairman but would continue as "interim Chairman." A delicate rebuke. One must not be rude to bishops for any reason. When reminded that she never graduated from the interim title, Burke just smiles.

Rude or just following the mandate the bishops gave her, Anne Burke sat at her Supreme Court desk in Chicago last week and showed this Wanderer reporter another angry letter-like an earlier one, also from the Archbishop of Hartford, Henry J. Mansell which ripped the Board for "expanding their competence, responsibilities, activities and studies in a dynamic of autonomy."

A very tough letter. It concluded "Be assured of our continued rayers and best wishes."

Anne Burke smiled quietly and said, "Continued prayers. How touching."

Then she dashed out to St. Peter's in the Loop for Assumption Mass.

[In the third and final article Justice Burke reviews the Board's report and gives an estimate of how it has been implemented by the Bishops.]


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