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Detroiter Files Lawsuit Against Archdiocese

Man Says Officials Knew Priest Was Pedophile, But Didn't Stop Him

Dec 5, 2002 | The Detroit News

A local resident has filed a negligence lawsuit against a former priest and the Archdiocese of Detroit, hoping to prevail under a narrow provision in state law.

The suit, filed this week in Wayne County under the assumed name of John Doe, alleges that the Rev. Robert Burkholder sexually abused an 8-year-old altar boy at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Detroit between 1972 and 1978.

The abuse occurred even though the archdiocese knew that Burkholder, 83, allegedly abused other children while at St. Hugh in Southgate previously, the suit says.

Burkholder has been called "one of the worst pedophiles we've had in this state" by Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan. He was extradited from Hawaii and pleaded no contest to criminal sexual misconduct involving a 13-year-old boy at a Redford parish. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Nov. 1.

Though the three-year statute of limitations has expired on the John Doe case, the victim's attorney, Cy Weiner of Southfield, said several factors make the case strong -- including Burkholder's admission that he abused other boys.

Michigan law does not recognize repressed memory syndrome in cases where the statute of limitations has expired, Weiner said, but it sometimes will make an exception if the alleged perpetrator has admitted to abuse.

As evidence of Burkholder's admission, the suit includes a letter of apology penned by Msgr. Walter Hurley that was sent to another family in 1993 acknowledging Burkholder's abuse.

"Following receipt of your letter, I met with Fr. Burkholder, who was visiting in Detroit at the time," wrote Hurley, who coordinates the archdiocese's response to sexual abuse allegations.

"In the course of the meeting, he acknowledged that there had been some abuse," he said.

Archdiocese spokesman Ned McGrath said in a prepared statement that the archdiocese hasn't seen the lawsuit, adding that he could not comment much anyway on pending litigation.

"As always," McGrath said, "the archdiocese stands ready to extend an offer of pastoral care and therapeutic assistance."

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