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Notre Dame’s past shows University not immune to problems

John Tierney | Sunday, April 25, 2010

Notre Dame was once at the center of the national priest abuse scandals.
Fr. James Burtchaell, formerly a professor of theology and provost, on resigned his professorship on Dec. 2, 1991, in the wake of sexual misconduct charges, The Observer reported.

“At the request of the University, he agreed in April 1991 to resign from the faculty at the end of his current sabbatical leave in the summer of 1992,” Fr. Carl Ebey, former provincial superior of the Congregation of the Holy Cross said in a statement reported in the Dec. 3, 1991, issue of The New York Times.

One of Burtchaell’s alleged victims, John Michael Vore, said the priest was his spiritual advisor, The Observer reported in its Dec. 9, 1991, issue.

“I experienced a violation when I was with him — a violation of trust, of the confidence I had in him,” Vore said at the time.

Burtchaell’s resignation followed an investigation conducted by the Office of the Provost, under the leadership of then-provost Timothy O’Meara. The investigation was conducted throughout the 1990-91 academic year, after different students alleged Burtchaell abused them, according to the Dec. 3, 1991, issue of The Observer.

Burtchaell was on leave from the University for the 1991-92 academic year, when he was a visiting professor at Princeton University. His resignation was effective at the conclusion of that academic year.

It is unclear when the University first received reports of Burtchaell’s abuse of students. William Storey, a theology professor at Notre Dame who retired in 1991, said he reported possible sexual misconduct by Burtchaell to the Congregation of the Holy Cross in 1976, according to the Dec. 13, 1991 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

Burtchaell served as the University’s first provost for seven years beginning in 1970. He was also chair of the Theology Department from 1968 to 1970.

He was known for stringent pro-life position and opposition to homosexuality in the Church, but also supported the ordination of women in a 1975 homily, The Observer reported.

After his resignation, Burtchaell was barred from public ministry, but remains a member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

Burtchaell’s case was the highest profile case of sexual abuse at Notre Dame, but former Notre Dame rector Fr. Robert Huneke was also implicated when a former student wrote a letter to members of the parish at which Huneke served in 1989.

Huneke allegedly began abusing the student when he was a parish priest in Long Island in 1969. When the student began attending Notre Dame in the early 1970s, Huneke followed him to the University, and served as an assistant rector of Cavanaugh Hall and rector of Grace Hall, according to the May 4, 2003, issue of The South Bend Tribune.

The abuse continued until the student was 20-years-old, according to The Tribune, but the student did not report the abuse until both he and Huneke were no longer present at the University.

Huneke was working at a parish in Huntington, N.Y., in 1989 when the student accused him of abuse. The diocese removed Huneke from the parish, and the priest eventually married a former nun, according to The Tribune.

The student learned in 2001 that Huneke was working as a guidance counselor at a high school in Atlanta. He informed the school about Huneke’s past, and the former priest was fired, according to The Tribune.

The University established a three-member committee in 2003 for students and alumni to contact to report sexual misconduct by clergy, according to The Tribune. The committee consisted of Theology Department chair John Cavadini, then-associate provost and current president of Saint Mary’s College Carol Mooney and then-general counsel Carol Kaesebier.