Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

Ex-priest commits suicide, was accused of sexual abuse



Pueblo, Colorado - A former Catholic priest who was under investigation for molesting a teenage boy in the early 1970s committed suicide Wednesday by shooting himself in the heart.

An autopsy showed that Andrew Burke, 62, died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, according to Pueblo County Coroner James Kramer.

Deputy Chief John Ercul of the Pueblo Police Department said Burke was a suspect in a sexual assault. A suicide note left by Burke did not mention the allegations, Ercul said.

According to a report by Pueblo police officer Mathieu Cantin, officers responded to Burke's residence in the 3500 block of Pecan Drive at 8 a.m. Wednesday and found him dead, lying on his back in a flower bed. Burke's chest was covered with a towel. Under the towel was a lone gunshot wound and a chrome .38 Special with a price tag still on it.

Burke's wife told police he had been depressed for the past year since allegations of sexual abuse were leveled against him. His wife became concerned when she awoke at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to find documents related to the sexual abuse allegations and personal finances spread out across the kitchen table, Cantin reported.

Burke's wife told police her husband was depressed because he believed the investigation was not going favorably for him.

The allegations against Burke were reported to Pueblo police last year by representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo. Monsignor Mark Plewka, chancellor of the diocese, and human resources Director Teresa Farley reported to Sgt. Troy Davenport that they had been contacted by a man who accused Burke of molesting his nephew in the early 1970s, when Burke was a priest assigned to St. Pius X, 331 Morris Ave.

The nephew, now 45, is serving a prison sentence for theft.

Plewka is out of town, and Farley did not return a phone message on Wednesday.

According to Davenport's report, representatives of the diocese visited Burke's accuser in prison. He told them that in the early 1970s Burke would make him strip down to his underwear, blindfold him, tickle him, then take a wet towel from a freezer and lay it across his chest.

Initially, Burke's accuser denied any touching or sexual contact followed. One year ago Tuesday, Plewka received a letter from Burke's accuser stating that "this sick man (Burke) was masturbating over me when he put the towels on my chest."

The diocese's file on Burke notes that he asked to be dispensed from the priesthood, and was granted his request by the Vatican on Dec. 15, 1973, according to Davenport's report. In a letter from Burke to the pope contained in the file, Burke admitted he "struggled with loneliness" and with a "psycho-sexual behavior disorder."

On Oct. 7, Burke and his lawyer met with Farley and Plewka on the condition that Burke would not answer any questions. About three weeks later, the diocese received a letter from Burke's lawyer. According to Davenport's report, the letter said that statements the diocese shared with them made by Burke's accuser were generally accurate, but "the problem was resolved and ceased many years ago . . . while the behavior may have been inappropriate, (the accuser's first) rendition that there was no sexual contact was correct."

Davenport asked Plewka whether he was aware of any other allegations against Burke. Plewka responded that Burke had left the priesthood more than 30 years ago, and he couldn't speak to anything more recent than that.

Davenport closed the investigation, noting in his report that the statute of limitations had lapsed. However, the police department announced Wednesday that it is opening an investigation into allegations by several former students of the defunct Roncalli High School that a brother there, William Mueller, had used ether to render students unconscious then raped or fondled them.

The district attorney's office is researching the statute of limitations with respect to the allegations against Mueller. A preliminary review suggests that the statute for prosecution is limited to 10 years from the date an alleged crime is reported, said Terry Hart, chief of staff for the district attorney's office.

Last week, Pueblo District Attorney Bill Thiebaut undertook a review of the allegations against Burke. Thiebaut said Wednesday that he was awaiting the return of members of his staff from a convention before pursuing the matter.

Also last week, The Pueblo Chieftain contacted Burke's lawyer seeking an interview about the 30-year-old allegations against him. Burke's lawyer said he was not aware of the police report generated by Burke's conversation with the diocese, and said Burke's accuser was not credible.

After leaving the priesthood, Burke worked in the mental health field at Parkview and St. Mary-Corwin medical centers as a social worker, substance abuse counselor and behavioral science supervisor.


See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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