Spencer New Leader
page A5 April 2, 2003
Burnor: Was Saddened by recent trial results
To the Editor:
I wanted to make some clarifications concerning information
pertaining to my case against Fr. Joseph Chu-Cong, which ended up in the paper (Telegram and Gazette) two weeks ago.
Jennifer Lucarelli of the Telegram and Gazette staff failed to treat the case fairly and objectively. She was
sitting next to the Rev. Isaac Keeley and they were conversing throughout the procedures. She did not show the same
solicitude with me. It is not my objective to retry the case, but I wish to clarify some impressions that could be made
by reading the article. Also, I would like to share some of my thoughts.
First of all, I want to thank Attorney Anthony Moratta,
Amy Law, Officer Tom Ryan, the staff of John Conte's office and the many who supported me in this difficult time.
mentioned that the defense attacked my credibility, saying that I impersonate a nun and have an obsession with St. Joseph's
Abbey. She failed to mention that I produced documents as evidence, which showed that the Diocese of Worcester has been
aware of my pursuit in the eremitic life and that I stated that the Catholic Church has provided a mechanism in Canon Law,
whereby hermits can be officially recognized in their dioceses after having been seen living the life which is formally called
a trial period.
I would also like to address the issue concerning my supposed "obsession" with the abbey. It is the
character of Cistercian spirituality that one is a "lover of the place". I never asked to be a monk of the
abbey. I was encouraged by many monks, even Fr. Isaac, to discover and pursue the viable options of becoming an "associate"
or "familiar" of the abbey. The Abbot General (the big father of the Cistercian Order), Dom Bernardo Olivera,
is in favor of such movements. (See his "reflections on Charismatic Associations," on Internet.)
I was saddened with
the turnout of the trial. I did my best to serve the truth and to protect other potential victims.
I was disappointed
with the communications I have had with the authorities of St. Joseph's Abbey on this matter. Their methods of communication,
I felt, were primarily based on motives of fear and self-interest. I went to the police under the guidance of my spiritual
director. I was never interested in a money settlement. I simply wanted an admission of guilt and an apology.
I have been more
pained by the reaction of the Abbey authorities than by the original offense. I was given a letter of "no trespass"
(after I filed a criminal complaint). I have been blacklisted from certain church circles, and my love for God and the
abbey has been mocked. Perhaps it was wrong for me to violate the "no trespass" letter, but it was unjust
for the abbey to issue me that letter in the first place. I simply desired to pray where I sense God's presence and
A statement released by Abbot Damian Carr after Father Joseph's arraignment last August said that they have reached
out to me with care and concern. It said further that the abbey was committed to work for justice and healing for all
involved. How can there be justice when the truth is manipulated then ignored? How can there be healing when falsehoods
are covered up? Abbot Damian's recent statement after the verdict was extremely offensive!
I forgive you, Father Joseph, for what you did to
me and for not being strong enough to serve God first. Father Isaac, I forgive you for becoming an obstacle to the truth.
Father (Abbott) Damian, I forgive you for your lack of filial love and lack of paternal responsibility (regarding the care
of Father Joseph's soul), which I hoped for and expected from you. I'll always love and pray for St. Joseph's Abbey.
Sr. Keri M. Burnor
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 2003 A11
The people's forum
Abbey priest's trial resolved nothing
I would like to make clarifications concerning an article (Telegram and Gazette, March 14), regarding my case against the
Rev. Joseph Chu-Cong.
Reporter Jennifer Lucarelli mentioned that the defendant attacked my credibility stating that I impersonated a nun and had
an obsession with St. Joseph's Abbey. She failed to mention that I produce documents that showed that the diocese has been
aware of my pursuit in the eremitic life.
In relation to my supposed "obsession" with the abbey, Cistercian spirituality teaches that one is a "lover
of the place." This is shown in the vow of stability. I was encouraged by many monks, even the Rev. Isaac Keeley,
to pursue becoming an "associate" of the abbey.
I was saddened with the results out of the trial. I did my best to serve truth and protect others.
I was disappointed with
Abbey authorities. Their methods of communication were based on fear and self-interest. I didn't want money. I
wanted an mission of guilt and an apology. I have been more pained by their reaction and by the original offense. My
love for the Abbey has been mocked. Abbot Damian Carr's statement after the verdict was extremely offensive.
I forgive Rev. Chu-Cong
for what he did to me and for not serving God first. I forgive Rev. Keeley for being an obstacle to the truth. And I
forgive Abbot Carr for his lack of love and paternal responsibility in caring for Rev. Chu-Cong's soul. I will always love
and pray for St. Joseph's Abbey.
KERI M. BURNOR
I would like to pose some questions to those who wish
to comment about the case involving the Rev. Joseph Chu-Cong and a woman.
Were you there at the trial? Did you read any official
documents? Did you ever speak with the woman and/or the one charged?
I respect the opinions of others, but I would in courage want
to get the facts before forming an opinion.
Every feasible attempt was made to keep this out of court, but those attempts failed because former promissory agreements
were broken and St. Joseph's Abbey's internal investigations proved to be self-serving. Only then did Keri Burnor seek help
She simply wanted an acknowledgement of the assault and apology so that healing could proceed for both parties. It was
when she brought the allegation to the attention of St. Joseph's Abbey that she became marginalized. Five days after
she filed a criminal complaint, she was issued the legal "no trespass" notice.
She has prayed at the Abbey for three years with no prior
formal complaints. For nearly 10 years she has lived a life of service to her church. Why would she jeopardize
her reputation and subject herself to humiliation?
If those in authority at St. Joseph's Abbey had simply chosen to exercise their God-given power to bless and restore, there
would have been no trial, and no media and no fractured relationships.
Is the Abbey Chapel glides Chapel or is the chapel merely
Although I am not
in the habit of writing letters to the editor, I felt it necessary to address an article, "Monk cleared in sex case"
(Telegram & Gazette, March 14)
I take umbrage to the allegations that the 84 year-old monk at St. Joseph's Abbey was found not guilty of charges of fondling
a woman, while spiritually advising her and not clearly being objective in regard to her. It was the next to last paragraph
that grieved me the most--"Today's not guilty verdict is a necessary first step to restore the Rev. Joseph Chu-Cong his
natural, moral and civil rights to a good name."
What about the victim who was alleged by the Rev. Isaac Keeley to have deep psychological problems? The writer failed
to mention that Ms. Burnor was given false hope in regard to her relationship with the abbey by the abbot and Rev. Keeley,
the abbey's prior and her being welcomed there. Her reputation was also sullied by false accusations, which were brought
out in her testimony.
This negative article and a letter to the editor (Telegram & Gazette, March 31) did little to restore her good name.
ROLAND A. DAHIR
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
SPENCER NEW LEADER A7
abbey seek peace after trial
Monk found not guilty after N. Brookfield
woman files suit
BY DAVID DORE NEW LEADER STAFF WRITER
NORTH BROOKFIELD- Keri Burnor has spent almost 2 years trying to reach a resolution
in the charges she took out against Father Joseph Chu-Cong, and now, both parties are trying to move forward with their lives
Chu-Cong, 84, a monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, was found not guilty March 13 of one count of indecent
assault and battery. Burnor filed a complaint after an August 2001 incident when Chu-Cong allegedly fondled
her left breast without her consent.
though the court case did not end the way she might have liked, Burnor, who now lives in North Brookfield, is moving on with
her hermit like existence
“I forgive you,
Father Joseph, for what you did to me,” Burnor said in her victim impact statement, written March 13. She
also wrote that she forgave Fr. Isaac Keeley, Abbey’s former communications director. “for
trying to intimidate me” and Fr. Damian Carr, the leader of the Abbey, “for your lack of filial love and paternal
responsibility, which I hoped for and expected from you.”
“I can say that we forgive her, just as she said in her letter that she forgives us,” said new communications
director Fr. Edward John Mullaney. He was referencing a letter in the April 2 Spencer New Leader that Burnor wrote
about the verdict, which was announced in Western Worcester District Court in East Brookfield.
Like Burnor, the Abbey wants to move on and continue with its mission. “We’re very grateful.
We are relieved,” Mullaney said. “We pray for Ms. Burnor, and we thank God that Fr.
Joseph’s good name is beginning to be restored.
“The case is over, and we hope that Father Joseph can resume his monastic life,” he added.
“…We certainly believe that it was a fair verdict and a fair trial.”
Mullaney recently assumed the duties of St. Joseph’s Abbey’s communications director, so Keeley can take
some time off. Keeley was not available for an interview about the Burnor case.
Mullaney noted that it is “very, very rare” for the monastery to be involved in a lawsuit or criminal proceedings.
Burnor, 27, began her association with St. Joseph’s Abbey in January 1999 when she started attending liturgical
services there. But, she has been pursuing a religious life for 10 years, since she converted to Roman
Catholicism “in order to become a nun. I don’t know why,” she said, adding that she felt
the call and need for a “marriage to God.”
Burnor spent nearly 6 years at St. Anne’s House, a convent and Harvard, but she left in October 1998 “because
I was in search of a more contemplative life,” she said.
After spending a few months outside of a convent or monastery, she started spending time at St. Joseph’s Abbey,
which was near where she lived at the time.
to Burnor, who goes by “Sr. Keri,” several monks at the Abbey encouraged her to consider becoming a hermit.
While she would live separately from the monks, she could still join them for services.
“I was well received by some of the monks there,” she said.
Later, Burnor received a key, which allowed her to use bathroom facilities at the Abbey, that was given to her with
permission from Fr. Abbot Damian Carr, she said.
Mullaney, however, gives a different impression of Burnor’s relationship with St. Joseph’s Abbey. It is
the abbey’s tradition to offer hospitality to people who want to participate in the liturgy and participate in retreats
that are offered every week, he said. Women are allowed at the Abbey, one week out of the month.
“We are, in a sense, a public place,” like a library or a bank, Mullaney said.
He added that people who visit the abbey are usually aware of what places are private and which are public.
They go to the abbey to be enriched, and then go home.
“Once in a great, great while, people come that just don’t understand our hospitality and our way of life,”
Mullaney was the vocation
director during the time that Burnor visited St. Joseph’s Abbey. He said that women who want to become
part of the community are referred to the Abbey’s “sister” convent, Mount St. Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham.
During that time, she attended services at St. Joseph’s Abbey, Burnor also received spiritual teaching from several
members of the community, Chu-Cong. He has been at the abbey for more than 40 years, Mullaney said.
Chu-Cong and Burnor met August 23, 2001, to discuss his book On the Contemplative Experience. According to
Burnor’s statement to state police in May 2002, which Burnor provided to the New Leader, the meeting also included
a discussion on her relationship with the abbey. Supposedly, it was not as welcoming as she first thought.
“As Fr. (Joseph) was leaving after my brief confession he fondled my left breast,” Burnor said. “I
was shocked by his action, then the rage nearly possessed me. Though it could be a logical and seem totally
ridiculous, it is important for me to say I felt (original emphasis) that Fr. Joseph felt that he was justified in
his action and could have used this as a means to getting me to leave.”
Burnor said that Chu-Cong instructed her not to tell anyone about the meeting, but she told two monks at St. Joseph’s
Abbey about the incident soon after it occurred.
was progressing. I was moving forward. Then, everything at the Abbey was put into question.”
After the incident, Burnor said. “My reputation and my aspiration were then put into a threatening
At first, she tried
to deal with the incident without involving the courts. She talked on the phone several times with Keeley
during a four-week period in early 2002. During one conversation, she recalled, Keeley said that Chu-Cong
felt “discomfort” at one of the hugs he and Burnor shared, but he did not remember touching her breast.
The Abbey, Burnor and Chu-Cong supposedly reached an agreement on May 5, 2002. The agreement stated
that Burnor would drop her allegation if Chu-Cong were permanently removed from any ministry that gave him contact with women.
But, when Burnor found out that Chu-Cong met with three ladies one month after the agreement was reached, she decided
to proceed with a criminal complaint. “I was going to take it out of the court until I saw this,” Burnor said.
She stressed that she was not looking for money or doing this out of revenge. “The only motive,
I had was, that was the truth,” she said.
actually has compassion for the man who did this,” said Kristi Seymour, Burnor’s twin sister. “She
didn’t want him to be put through this, but she was angry at his superiors” for not living up to their end of
the May 5, 2002 bargain.
According to Mullaney,
the abbot ordered Chu-Cong not to go into the guest house while the criminal case was proceeding. But,
Mullaney stressed, “it was not a punishment.”
Internally, the Abbot broke the news to the monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey about the allegation during a regular
community meeting. The incident was “something that affected all of us,” Mullaney said.
“We had to simply deal with it – basically, to take it to prayer. Honestly, we never
had any doubt of Fr. Joseph’s innocence.”
Soon after the charges were filed, the Abbey took out a restraining order that forbade Burnor from setting foot on
any property owned by St. Joseph’s Abbey.
admitted that Burnor donned disguises on two separate occasions and went to St. Joseph’s Abbey. When
asked why she did it, Burnor said she was “getting tired” and missing a wall that she liked to pray near, as well
as her life of prayer. Burnor has since built a replica of that wall in her North Brookfield apartment.
Seymour warned her sister to stay away from the Abbey, but Burnor replied, “that’s like me telling you
not to see your husband. That’s not right, and that’s not fair.”
“I missed the wall, that’s what she said,” Seymour told the New Leader.
“I was there for the wall, not for any monk,” Burnor added.
She also said that she traveled to South Carolina during Thanksgiving last year for a four to five day-long retreat.
During that retreat, she dressed in “normal” clothes and used her middle name.“I just wanted to get
away from the situation,” Burnor said, explaining why she went.
She eventually told the abbot at the retreat center her real name and why she was there, and he was “very hospitable
and even helped me to stay longer,” Burnor said.
During the trial, there was the perception that Burnor would drop all charges, if she could have access to the wall
at St. Joseph’s, but she stressed that this was not true.
“No matter what, I wanted an admission of guilt and an apology …and if I didn’t receive one, I would
see this to the end,” Burnor said.
Burnor is continuing with her religious life, life at St. Joseph’s Abbey has begun to get back to normal. Mullaney said
that Chu-Cong has returned to his “former” life, and there have been no changes in Abbey policy because of the
allegations that Burnor leveled against the abbey.
had no pastoral ministry, so he really didn’t have any pastoral ministry to be suspended from,” Mullaney said.
But, he added, the experience has brought home to St. Joseph’s Abbey, the crisis in the Catholic Church, which
sprung from hundreds of allegations of people being sexually abused by priests.
“In the current climate, we are all aware that a lawsuit can be brought pretty quickly,” Mullaney said.
He added that abbey members need to be careful about what they say and do.
“This just brought it home for us very clearly,” Mullaney said.
David Dore photo
Keri Burnor of North Brookfield, who is also known as
“Sr. Keri,” stands in front of a replica of a wall at St. Joseph’s Abbey that she used to pray near –
before a 2001 incident involving Father Joseph Chu-Cong, a monk at the Spencer abbey.