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Church scandal: Q&A

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2002

What happened Wednesday?

What happened Wednesday?

Minnesota lawyer Jeffrey Anderson filed lawsuits in St. Petersburg and Portland, Ore., claiming that the Catholic Church, including the Vatican, participated in a policy "to conceal allegations of child sexual abuse against its clergy from law enforcement authorities, parishioners and the public."

What does that have to do with the Tampa Bay area?

One of the suits is based on the allegations of Rick Gomez, a 28-year-old who spent a year in the 1980s as a boarding school student at Hillsborough County's Mary Help of Christians School. He says that a brother, a priest-in-training teaching at that school, repeatedly molested him during that year. The school, which is run by the order of Salesians of Don Bosco, is in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which also is named in the suit. The other suit makes similar allegations against the Vatican, but in a different case involving a different order.

Was that brother charged with a crime in Hillsborough?

No. Gomez told his mother of the abuse, and she reported it to authorities. A Hillsborough prosecutor decided at the time there was insufficient evidence.

What happened to the brother?

William Burke was ordained a priest and, at last report, was working in New York. His priestly order declined to reveal where he is, but church officials insist that he hasn't had unsupervised contact with young people in years.

Were there other complaints against that priest?

The order, Salesians of Don Bosco, declined to comment.

Will the pope have to come to Pinellas to testify in the suit?

That's unlikely. Anderson, however, said he is hopeful that the court here or in Portland will agree with his theory that the church is a commercial enterprise and can be a defendant in court, even if it also is a foreign nation.

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