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ND Reaches Out To Victims


May 4, 2003 | South Bend Tribune University of Notre Dame officials are reaching out to former students who report they experienced sexual misconduct by clergy while attending the university.

The university recently established a three member panel of contacts for former students or alumni who want to report cases of inappropriate behavior by clergy.

"It takes a great deal of courage for them to come forward," said panel member Carol Mooney, a university vice president and associate provost. The other two contacts are John C. Cavadini, chair of the theology department; and Carol Kaesebier, vice president and general counsel.

The goal is to listen and determine what the university can do to help people who report they were victimized while attending Notre Dame, Mooney said.

The effort comes amid requests by some alumni for detailed information about how the university handles cases of alleged clergy sexual misconduct and how many cases have been reported in the past three decades.

"Notre Dame has a unique opportunity to demonstrate moral leadership for the benefit of the bishops, religious orders and Catholics across the country," said Mark Serrano, a 1986 graduate who lives near Washington, D.C. Serrano was sexually molested from the age of 9 by a parish priest in New Jersey and now works as an advocate for other former victims.

He's one of the alumni asking questions. The group, formed early this year, calls itself the Discussion Group for the Prevention of Sexual Abuse at Notre Dame.

It is composed of more than a dozen graduates from across the country. Some are former victims of clergy abuse, while others say they want to help the church and Notre Dame assist victims.

Four priests

The university is aware of allegations of misconduct against four priests who worked at Notre Dame, Mooney said.

Although the university declined to identify priests accused or the individuals who filed the complaints, the four cases are believed to be:

The Rev. James T. Burtchaell, a prominent Holy Cross priest, theologian and one-time Notre Dame provost. Burtchaell resigned his tenured faculty position and left the university in 1991 after an investigation into claims he had engaged in sexual misconduct while counseling male students.

At the time, Burtchaell issued an apology without making specific reference to the allegations against him, saying he "had behaved toward some former university students in ways that were wrong, and which I very much regretted."

Mooney said the university received an allegation before 1991 of inappropriate behavior by Burtchaell. An individual contacted the university on behalf of an alleged victim, she said.

Mooney said she is not sure when the earlier complaint was received, but it was considerably before 1991, perhaps many years before. She said she is investigating to determine who reported the matter and when.

Burtchaell has lived for the past several years in a Holy Cross priests' residence in Phoenix. Burtchaell does not have priestly faculties to celebrate Mass or otherwise perform priestly duties in the Diocese of Phoenix, according to a spokesman for that diocese.

Burtchaell's priestly faculties have been removed in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, according to the diocese.

The Rev. Robert D. Huneke, a priest from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., who worked as a rector and assistant rector at Notre Dame in the mid-1970s while he was pursuing a graduate degree.

Huneke was accused by John Salveson of Philadelphia, a 1977 and 1978 graduate who said he was 13 years old when Huneke, a priest in his childhood parish in Long Island, N.Y., began sexually abusing him. The priest later followed Salveson to Notre Dame, where the abuse continued until he was 20, Salveson said.

Salveson's name is printed here with his permission.

A priest from the Diocese of Erie, Pa., who worked as rector in a Notre Dame men's residence hall in the 1970s while pursuing graduate studies.

He was accused of sexual misconduct by a 1977 Notre Dame graduate who lives in Little Falls, N.Y. The former student told Notre Dame administrators last year that the priest, who served as his spiritual counselor, made sexual contact with him beginning when he was a 19-year-old sophomore.

The allegations are "not true," the accused man said Wednesday in a telephone interview. He now lives in eastern Pennsylvania.

When contacted by The Tribune and asked about the accused man's status, the Erie Diocese reported he is now 73 and retired.

His priestly faculties were removed in July 2002 shortly after the allegation prompted the diocese to conduct an internal investigation, said diocese spokesman Gary Loncki. Bishop Donald W. Trautman removed the priest's faculties to preach, to celebrate any of the church's sacraments, including a public Mass, or to wear clerical garb.

"There was no investigation," said the ex-priest, who indicated he has been retired for three years. He declined further comment.

He no longer lives in the Diocese of Erie. The bishop of the diocese in which he lives is aware of his status, Loncki said. The diocese did not disclose his location.

The diocese provided financial assistance for counseling for the alleged victim.

An unnamed priest who does not belong to the Holy Cross order. The university received a misconduct allegation against this priest in the past year by an individual acting on behalf of an alleged victim, Mooney said.

Some of the claimed misconduct was reported to have occurred recently and other misconduct in the past.

That case is still under investigation, Mooney said. She said she could not provide any more details or indicate whether the accused priest is still on campus or in the local community.

Any allegations of recent sexual misconduct on campus are handled under Notre Dame's written policy against sexual harassment, Mooney said. The provost, human resources or student affairs office investigates such allegations, depending on whether the accused is a faculty member, staff member or student.

Some cases reported from years ago may have happened before such policies existed, she said. Existing policies cannot be used if individuals involved are no longer enrolled or employed at Notre Dame.

University leaders are discussing how they can help alumni and other former students who report long-ago abuse, Mooney said.

"Something ought to be in place to welcome them, listen to them and serve as a resource for them," she said. A Mass of Reconciliation may be offered on campus later this spring.

Indiana has laws against sexual abuse of minors, but those laws do not apply to victims 18 or older. If both parties are adults, unless a relationship involved force or a threat of force, it is unlikely any criminal charges could be prosecuted, said Michael Gotsch, St. Joseph County chief deputy prosecutor.

Asking for more

The alumni discussion group would like Notre Dame to establish an independent review panel to investigate cases of clergy sexual misconduct, said group member John Michael Vore, of Indianapolis, a 1986 and 1993 graduate.

Vore publicly accused Burtchaell in 1991 of initiating sexual contact, including kissing and touching, during sessions in which the priest was serving as his spiritual adviser. The inappropriate behavior allegedly occurred in the 1980s.

At the time, Burtchaell said the activity constituted lessons in intimacy, Vore said. Vore eventually broke off all contact with Burtchaell.

Vore said he told the priest: "As far as I'm concerned, you are trading sex for advice."

Vore said he no longer considers himself a victim, but rather a witness to abuse. He said he still wonders how many young men faced inappropriate behavior by Burtchaell.

Several students claimed Burtchaell had made sexual advances toward them while serving as their counselor or spiritual adviser, according to a 1991 National Catholic Reporter article. Five students in the 1970s made similar complaints against Burtchaell, a former Notre Dame theology department chairman told that newspaper in 1991.

Vore said his life and his faith were permanently affected by Burtchaell's actions.

"This is a spiritual abuse crisis," he said. "I haven't heard anyone talk about the spiritual condition of those who were abused."

The alumni group is asking Notre Dame administrators to reopen the Burtchaell investigation to determine the extent of the priest's alleged misconduct.

Burtchaell could not be reached for comment.

The alumni group also is asking whether any cases of alleged misconduct have resulted in financial settlements, what happens to offenders, and whether information about such offenders is shared between the university and the Congregation of Holy Cross. For a complete list of the group's questions:

Unrecognized victims

Dr. James Muller, a 1965 graduate, also is involved in the alumni discussion.

Muller, a Boston cardiologist, is a prominent voice in the national debate about the crisis in the Catholic Church. He's a founder and chair of Voice of the Faithful, a lay initiative launched in Muller's parish last year in response to the growing scandal of sexual abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Muller said he became involved in the alumni effort after giving a talk on campus last year at which an audience member made a reference to "unrecognized victims" of sexual abuse at Notre Dame.

"I was surprised to hear the assertion that there were unrecognized victims," said Muller, who said he hadn't heard about Burtchaell's departure in 1991 amid allegations the priest had made sexual advances to young adults. He started wondering what the university's policies are in such cases and what is done to help victims.

"It's a crucial part of the healing process to be recognized. Otherwise, there might be people suffering in silence who think they are the only ones," he said.

Muller said he is heartened by Notre Dame's response. He said the university is taking some positive steps.

"We are not attacking the university. We are trying to work with Notre Dame to develop a really good policy on how to deal with the clergy sexual abuse issue at a Catholic university," Muller said. "My hope is Notre Dame will have a policy that is so good that other Catholic colleges will adopt it."

Anyone seeking to report allegations of clergy sexual misconduct

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