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Helping accused (innocent and guilty) priests

By Matt C. Abbott, Renew America, March 28, 2010

In response to my March 18 column featuring Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a Detroit-based organization founded to assist Catholic priests in difficult situations, a reader sent me a link to a 2008 article posted on AveWatch.com, excerpted and edited below (Joe Maher, president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii's response is included after this excerpt).

    'According to Ave Maria University's Web site, the AMU Founder's Club hosted a visit from the president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), Joseph Maher, one year ago this past Friday. IRS records show that the self-described exempt purpose of OBS is to offer 'outplacement services for Roman Catholic priests and religious men and women for the purpose of providing a transition from one position to another.'

    'The University's Founders Club, which was established by Tom Monaghan, advertised that the purpose of OBS was 'to find solutions to sensitive situations confronting priests and religious in accordance with the authentic teaching of the Church.'

    ''Outplacement services' for 'sensitive situations'? Translation: OBS helps to quietly shuffle around pederast priests....

    'This 'outplacement service' is a relatively lucrative job for Maher. IRS 990s show that Maher received $106,000 compensation as OBS's President in 2005; that same year, OBS spent $93,835 on what they called 'food, shelter and clothing for indigents.' The next year, Maher was given a raise of over $30,000, pumping his compensation up to $137,341. The organization's expense-to-charity ratio does not speak well for how OBS is run, particularly when one considers OBS's other non-salary expenses, like $17,000 for 'chapel' in 2005/2006 combined (Why does an organization with one employee need a private chapel?)

    'OBS and its Ave Maria supporters might claim that the mission of the organization is to support accused innocent priests who are defending wrongful allegations. But according to their Web site, OBS cares nothing about whether their clients are innocent or guilty (excerpt):

    'In cases where legal procedures in civil, criminal or canon law are required: A client's innocence or guilt is not a determining factor in obtaining assistance from OBS'

    'From the Washington Post, Oct 13, 2002:

    'In Detroit, Maher said he does not attempt to determine whether a priest is innocent or guilty before providing financial help from Opus Bono Sacerdotii. The group, which he said has raised $100,000 and applied to the Internal Revenue Service for charitable status, is assisting the Rev. Robert Burkholder, who returned to Michigan from retirement in Hawaii this month to face charges of molesting a 13-year-old boy in 1986.'

    'In an interview published by the Detroit News in August, Burkholder, 82, admitted that he had had sexual encounters with 'maybe a dozen or two' boys between the ages of 11 and 14, but contended that they were consensual. 'It takes two to tango,' he said. 'Some of the accusations are true, but so what? I was a priest — a good priest — who had a weakness.'

    'Burkholder, who was labeled Michigan's worst pedophile priest by Wayne County Prosecutor Michael Duggan, was sentenced to jail after pleading no contest to two second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges. As far back as 1993, it was known that Burkholder was a menace; that year, his priestly duties were constrained by his diocese as he admitted, in writing, to molesting at least 23 boys.

    'None of that — not even Burkholder's unrepentant 'two to tango' or 'so what' — mattered to OBS.

    'In another pederast crusade adopted by OBS, Maher sent 3,000 fund raising letters to support a jailed priest who was accused of 13 sex crimes on 6 boys. South Bend Tribune, Oct. 28, 2005, excerpt (full):

    'I think it's outrageous what [OBS is] doing,' [Bishop] D'Arcy said. 'We never gave them any [diocesan mailing] list. They're unauthorized to do this and it's wrong. ... I don't know anything about (Maher) and he doesn't know anything about this case. He's out of order writing to our people.'

    'One recipient is a local man scheduled to testify at the trial that LeBrun fondled him in the early 1980s. 'I was extremely offended to receive this thing, and to try to solicit support from victims?' the local man said. 'How low.'

    'In January 2006, the priest that Maher so vigorously helped was sentenced to 111 years in prison (more).

    'OBS is connected to Tom Monaghan far beyond Joseph Maher's invitation to speak at the Ave Maria University Founder's Club. Maher and OBS co-founder Paul Barron are both members of Legatus, Tom Monaghan's club for rich Catholic businessmen (AveWatch archive on Legatus here). OBS and Ave Maria also pick from the same talent pool....

    'Another OBS Advisor was the prominent canon lawyer Father Gregory Ingels. In 2002, he helped craft the 'zero tolerance' policy on sex abuse adopted by American Catholics. The following year, in 2003, he was charged for a 1972 incident of sodomy and 'substantial sexual conduct' with a boy. In the criminal complaint, Ingels acknowledged having had sex with the boy and could be heard on tape saying, 'What I did to you was terrible.'

    'This was not a singular moment of weakness or indiscretion on Ingels' part. In the summer of 2003, a second case against Ingels was assembled by the local district attorney. A former female student of Father Ingels, Jane Parkhurst, alleged that the priest began to 'cultivate' her at age 15, taking advantage of a troubled home life that started after her parents died in a car accident. She told authorities that Ingels had sexually abused her for four years starting in 1973....

    'All charges against Ingels were later dropped due to a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down as unconstitutional a California law that extended the statutes of limitation in sex crimes. Ingels' Archbishop, William Levada, knew of the allegations back in 1996, but did nothing. Levada approved a payment to Parkhurst of nearly $2.7 million.

    'Even after all this, OBS President Joseph Maher was quoted as saying that his organization was 'grateful to have him [Ingels]': 'He's an excellent priest, a very holy man, and he's a great help to us.''....
I asked OBS president Joe Maher to comment on the above article. The following was his response (via e-mail):

    'I just looked at the link you sent to me. Unfortunately the site is billed as 'investigative journalism,' however we were never contacted to verify any of the information presented about us there. Unlike your own good efforts to publish truth, this site is a poor example of the principles we learned in journalism school pertaining to three authentic verifiable sources of truth, and to make sure you get the scoop first from the root source or you risk publishing defamation!

    'Just for the record though, I could not possibly help the thousands of priests that we have cared for since 2002 by myself. We have full time staff, part-time help and volunteers. We have never received a dime from the good Tom Monaghan, and I'm proud to have been associated with the fine organization of Legatus. When a priest needs help, we will do all we can to help him. Because of this, I have wiped out all of my savings, retirement, stock, etc. in order to keep the mission afloat. The compensation I receive fluctuates as needed to try to pay down the debt that I incur for the mission in order to keep the doors open through personal credit card debt, personal loans, and equity against my home, delaying my personal income tax payments, etc. Our financials are published on our Web site and show that we have run a deficit in funding every year since our founding and somehow we have to make up for that shortfall. We would be ecstatic if a major donor came forward and offered us a million dollars so we could normalize our salaries and pay our taxes on time!

    'Finally, Benedict XVI, who encourages our work, recently stated that our 'neighbor' is anyone that needs help and we have the ability to help them. So, I will personally help any priest, guilty or innocent of any sin that he may have committed or alleged to have committed, in order to help him be healed and grow in his desire for holiness. The goal here is to pick up our neighbor and help him get to heaven; after all, isn't that why God the Father sent his only Son to sit with sinners and die for the good thief?

    'Thank you for the opportunity to respond and may Our Lady of Priests be your health and your protection.'
© Matt C. Abbott



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