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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Former priest denies sex abuse charges

By Jaymes Song
Associated Press

A former priest, described by a prosecutor as one of the worst pedophiles in Michigan, yesterday denied the most recent charges against him and accused authorities of "digging up dirt."

Robert Burkholder, 82, who has lived in West O'ahu for 23 years, is one of four Roman Catholic priests who formerly worked in the Archdiocese of Detroit who were charged with criminal sexual conduct in cases that date from the 1960s to the 1980s, prosecutors said yesterday.

"It's ridiculous and cruel," Burkholder said when asked about the charges in a telephone interview.

Wayne County, Mich., Prosecutor Michael Duggan said Burkholder admitted in a 1993 letter to the archdiocese that he had molested 23 boys, going as far back as 1949.

He engaged in sexual acts with the boys and at times encouraged them to engage in group sex, said Duggan, who described Burkholder as "without a doubt one of the worst pedophiles we have in this state."

"Father Burkholder's means of seduction was to tell these young boys, many of whom were altar boys, that their bodies were gifts from God and therefore were to be shared" with the priest, Duggan said.

Burkholder is charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a 13-year-old boy from St. Roberts Parish in Redford Township, whom he took on a trip to Hawai'i as an eighth-grade graduation present in 1986, Duggan said.

The charge involving the 13-year-old is the only one that falls within the statute of limitations, Duggan said.

"I don't know anything about it," Burkholder said. "It wasn't me. I never took anyone to Honolulu or anywhere."

However, he acknowledged misconduct in the 1940s and 1950s.

"It's a bunch of nonsense, because the thing happened a long, long time ago and it's been atoned for," Burkholder said. "I can't understand why they're bringing stuff up more than 50 years ago."

Burkholder said he underwent six months of counseling in New York for his offenses and whatever happened is "long gone."

"I haven't done anything wrong since I graduated from the program in New York," he said. "They were satisfied I had been corrected and given strength."

"It's just so really cruel," Burkholder said. "I was lying in bed last night thinking, 'When will this stop?' How long do you have to be a good person? Who does not have weaknesses in life?"

Burkholder said he is still a devout Catholic, but not a priest.

In 1982, Burkholder began working on O'ahu as a contract military chaplain at the Army's Schofield Barracks and also helped with Mass at St. Elizabeth in 'Aiea, but was not parish priest and never joined the Hawai'i archdiocese, said Patrick Downes, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Hawaii.

Downes said Burkholder's work at St. Elizabeth "doesn't make him a priest. That just means he lent a hand."

It is unknown how long Burkholder continued working on O'ahu, but he was prohibited from working with the church when the Archdiocese of Detroit banned him from wearing the collar and presenting himself as a priest in 1993, Downes said.

Monsignor Walter Hurley, the Detroit archdiocese's liaison with civil authorities investigating abuse claims, said the archdiocese first became aware of the allegations against Burkholder in the 1960s.

Burkholder is accused of molesting the 13-year-old when the two were in Hawai'i. But prosecutors say they are able to charge him because Burkholder had a position of authority over the boy that he obtained in Wayne County when the boy's parents gave him permission to take their son to Hawai'i.

The boy, who would now be about 30 years old, has not been identified by authorities.

Prosecutors said efforts to extradite the four priests would begin after warrants were signed yesterday.

Advertiser staff writer Mike Gordon contributed to this report.