DENVER — A Colorado court has ruled that the personnel file of a deceased priest accused of sexual abuse should remain sealed despite a new lawsuit claiming he molested a teenage boy.
The attorney for the man making the new claim decried the Oct. 20 ruling in Pueblo District Court, saying the public should know what’s in the personnel files of priests accused of abuse.
“The reason we do these cases is to expose the truth. People should know who enabled these pedophiles,” said Adam Horowitz, who has represented several people who have claimed abuse by priests. In a previous attempt to open the priest’s file, attorneys have argued that it would show when church officials learned about sexual misconduct allegations.
The Diocese of Pueblo had asked a judge to keep former priest Andrew Burke’s file sealed, after a new lawsuit was filed Oct. 16 accusing Burke of abuse. The diocese argued those records are private.
A receptionist at the diocese said Monsignor Mark A. Plewka handled news-media calls but that he was out of the country and no one else was available to comment on Oct. 21.
Burke killed himself in 2005 after allegations against him surfaced. The diocese settled a lawsuit in September with two men who claimed Burke molested them.
Burke’s file has previously been released to Horowitz and another man he represented, but it has remained sealed from the public.
Horowitz said he hoped that would change with the new lawsuit, in which a Pueblo resident who is now 56 claimed that as a teenager, he was sexually abused by Burke more than a dozen times after Mass in 1971 at St. Pius X church.
Representatives of a Chicago-based support group called the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, said Oct. 21 that they were asking Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to intervene and oppose having Burke’s records sealed.
David Clohessy, SNAP’s national director, said the group was disturbed by the Oct. 20 ruling.
“It contradicts everything that America’s bishops have promised about openness and transparency,” he said. “This priest is dead. The safety of the kids, the healing of victims, and the trust of parishioners trumps the convenience of the dead predator’s relatives.”
Archdiocese spokeswoman Jeanette R. DeMelo said it wasn’t involved in the Pueblo cases.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said she couldn’t comment on the Pueblo case because she wasn’t familiar with it, but that the Church charter calls for transparency.
“However, if there are laws that say records have to remain private, you have to abide by the law,” she said.