A Vatican document from recently-publicized Boston Archdiocese personnel files shows that the pope decreed that a defrocked Catholic priest should not remain in the area where his actions were known, unless his bishop decided that his presence would not cause a scandal.
The May 25, 1999 document on Vatican letterhead, but not signed by the pope, was in reference to former priest Robert Burns, and was part of the documents released Dec. 3.
According to a translation of the Latin document signed by Cardinal Medina Estevez, the pope said that the defrocked priest ”ought to live away from the places where his previous condition is known.”
An exception to that would be if the priest’s religious superior believed ”that the presence of the suppliant will cause no scandal.”
Burns had a history of sexual abuse before he came to Boston from the diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, according to his personnel file. He was asked to serve in Boston in 1982 as he concluded a year of treatment for child molestation.
The Boston Archdiocese acknowledged in a 1996 news release that it knew about ”the former Father Burns’ problem prior to his stay in this area.”
In an unrelated case, Burns in 1996 pleaded guilty to molesting an 11-year-old boy in Salem, N.H. He was released in 1999 and now lives in Concord, N.H.