Judge Anne Burke Quits Order of Malta Over Sex Abuse Gag Order

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  October 2, 2018   

Cuts ties with lay order after instruction to keep silent on sex abuse scandal

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CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - A top judge in Illinois says she left the Order of Malta because leaders were trying to silence her criticism of the Pope on sex abuse. 

Justice Anne Burke currently serves on the Illinois Supreme Court. In 2002–2004, Burke acted as interim chair of the U.S. bishops' independent Review Board charged with scrutinizing the way dioceses handled allegations of priest sex abuse.

Chicago Sun-Times writer Michael Sneed reported on Sept. 24 that Burke had resigned from the Order of Malta after the lay order's leadership told members not to criticize the Church's handling of the sex abuse scandal. 

Peter J. Kelly, president of the Order of Malta's U.S. branch, had said in a letter to members, "It is not the mission of the Order of Malta to participate in the debate concerning the current crisis. Therefore, official participation of members in the public debate regarding the aforementioned issues — beyond condemning abuse in general — is not helpful and could interfere with our work."

Burke's response was to cut ties with the Dames of Malta — the female counterpart of the Knights of Malta. She said in a letter to Kelly, "I feel that I cannot remain silent and I no longer wish to be a part of a Catholic organization that is unwilling to take a stand on these issues."

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The judge's letter to Kelly pledged, "I will continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our Church that permitted these crimes to continue."

In the letter, Justice Burke blasted Cdl. Timothy Dolan of the New York archdiocese for hiring a former judge to "investigate" the archdiocese. Burke opined, "It's unbelievable that New York City's Cardinal Timothy Dolan just picked a special attorney to investigate child abuse in his archdiocese! It's nonsense!"

"Why would anybody trust this when she is working FOR the archdiocese?" she added.

I will continue to speak out about the need to investigate the underlying causes and conduct by the hierarchy in our Church that permitted these crimes to continue.

The Chicago Sun-Times also interviewed Burke in mid-August after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Burke said at the time, "I wasn't shocked. Not at all."

She related the bombshell report to her own experience investigating the Church's sex abuse scandal on the National Review Board.

"We did a lot of research, but a lot was kept from us and we knew it," she said.

"It was happening in Chicago, but we had to rely on files the bishops were willing to give us — and we knew there had to be more, but we had no subpoena powers," said Burke to her interviewer. "We had no government authority!"

"And shockingly," Burke noted, "the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops charter our National Review Board was appointed under did NOT include investigating the BISHOPS! Or even penalizing the bishops or cardinals for transferring these priests!"

The judge said she would like to see more states have similar investigations into the Church's handling of sex abuse allegations. She was quoted as saying, "Finally … at last … government authorities — like those in Pennsylvania — are getting involved in investigation of this criminal activity."

She opined, "I think every state should convene a grand jury into this culture of secrecy that protected offenders at all costs."

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