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Official Quits Amid Sex Allegation : Misconduct: Father James Burtchaell of Notre Dame, a well-known Roman Catholic theologian and spokesman for the anti-abortion movement, was accused of molesting male students.

December 07, 1991| from Religious News Service

Father James Burtchaell, a well-known Roman Catholic theologian and spokesman for the anti-abortion movement, has agreed to resign from teaching at the University of Notre Dame amid allegations of sexual involvement with male students he was counseling.

Burtchaell, 57, is a former provost at Notre Dame and a former chairman of the university's theology department.

A statement confirming the resignation and apologizing "to those who may have been hurt" was released Sunday by the head of Burtchaell's religious order. Father Carl F. Ebey, provincial superior of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Indiana Province, released the statement in response to a story in the Dec. 6 edition of National Catholic Reporter.

The paper reported that Burtchaell intended to resign from the university as a result of an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

In his statement, Ebey reveals that "once the facts of the matter were known . . . Father Burtchaell was asked to undergo psychological evaluation and treatment, and he is doing so."

Burtchaell has been on sabbatical from Notre Dame since August, 1990. He has been working at Princeton University in a project funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Attempts to reach him last week were unsuccessful.

Ebey wrote, "The Holy Cross Community is saddened by the events surrounding the case of Father James Burtchaell. We acknowledge the serious nature of this matter and apologize to those who may have been hurt.

"As a religious family, we are aware of the personal tragedy a teacher and scholar brought on himself," Ebey said.

The story in National Catholic Reporter, an independent weekly newspaper, was based on interviews with unidentified sources. According to the paper, Burtchaell "agreed to resign last spring after the university investigated the allegations of several students who claimed Burtchaell had made sexual advances toward them in counseling or spiritual advising situations. In some cases, sexual contact was alleged to have occurred between Burtchaell and the students, the sources said."

Administrators at the university and Burtchaell's superior refused to talk to the paper.

Last Sunday, Ebey finally commented on the case in his statement, confirming that Burtchaell had been asked by the university to resign and that the priest had agreed in April to do so. The resignation was to have become effective at the end of his current sabbatical in the summer of 1992. Ebey said the Holy Cross congregation "concurred with this course of action."

A spokesman for Notre Dame Provost Timothy O'Meara said that the university had received a letter of resignation from Burtchaell, but that the school would not comment on it or reveal any details. The spokesman said the university would not discuss what steps, if any, it had taken to aid the students who complained of sexual abuse.

National Catholic Reporter said that according to interviews with university sources, several students independently confided to a priest in the theology department during the 1989-90 academic year that they had been sexually harassed or abused by Burtchaell. The complaints eventually made their way to O'Meara who, during the course of his investigation, learned of other allegations of sexual misconduct directed at Burtchaell.

The provost then met with Burtchaell several times during the 1990-91 school year and worked out the agreement between the priest and the university, according to the paper.

Burtchaell will remain a member of his religious order, according to a spokesman for its provincial headquarters in South Bend, Ind.

Burtchaell was graduated from Notre Dame in 1956, and he returned as a theology professor in 1966. He became department chairman in 1968. In 1970, he was named university provost, working with then-President Theodore M. Hesburgh. In 1977 he returned to teaching and soon emerged as one of the more powerful and eloquent spokesmen for the anti-abortion movement.

His book, "Rachel Weeping: The Case Against Abortion," was published in 1982 and won a Christopher Award, which is given to promote works that "affirm the highest values of the human spirit."

He has lectured and written widely against abortion and on a range of other issues, including sexuality and marriage, in publications ranging from National Catholic Reporter to the Protestant evangelical publication Christianity Today.

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