Monday, April 12, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) — The head of a Roman Catholic bishops’ review board on sexual abuse has acknowledged a friendship with a former priest once accused of sexual misconduct, but says the relationship has not affected her work.

Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke defended her friendship with Thomas O’Gorman, a speechwriter for her husband, Chicago Alderman Edward Burke.

Judge Burke said that she only recently learned about Mr. O’Gorman’s past as a priest and that it did not influence her work with the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

But others said at a time when accusations of sexual abuse have threatened the church’s credibility, anything that could be seen as a conflict of interest should have been made public.

Mr. O’Gorman denied the accusations against him. He left the priesthood in 1994, before church officials made any official determination in the case.

His friendship with Judge Burke was reported in Saturday’s editions of the Chicago Tribune.

Judge Burke pointed to her strong stance against abusive priests and those who hide abuse, particularly in a February report chastising the church.

“It flies in the face of common sense to say I could be influenced when the results of my report disclose what an advocate I am for children and victims,” she said.

Fellow board members praised Judge Burke.

“She has been one of the toughest people on the church,” said Leon Panetta, a former congressman. “I don’t think this relationship affected her judgment.”

Others said Judge Burke should have disclosed her relationship with Mr. O’Gorman upon learning of the accusations against him.

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