Questions Renewed Re Football Priest (August 1994)

In an effort to ascertain if the unconstitutional expenditure of public money in Wisconsin on behalf of a Catholic priest had ever been reimbursed from private sources, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has directed another request to the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law.

Earlier this year, under prodding from the Foundation and through the investigative reporting of Jennifer Galloway, then an intern at the Capital Times in Madison, it was revealed that a Catholic priest was traveling everywhere with the Wisconsin Badgers football team: home games, away games, Tokyo, the Rose Bowl and a visit with Vice-president Al Gore.

It also was reported to the Foundation that the priest, Michael Burke, may have had his expenses paid to the Super Bowl in Atlanta and that he possibly took guests at public expense on some of his other forays with the team.

Initially the Athletic Department denied that the priest was acting as a chaplain. He was described as just “a supporter and friend.” Only after the reporter interviewed players who confirmed that, indeed, the Catholic priest was leading before and after game prayers, leading prayers at team hotels and traveling at public expense to perform his religious mission did the University capitulate and issue a statement that in the future the priest would no longer be subsidized by taxpayers.

However, the Athletic Department has refused to document reimbursement by anyone on behalf of Burke for his past publicly-subsidized expenses.

In addition to asking again for evidence of reimbursement to the University for these expenditures, the Foundation is asking for information on a new contract, apparently completed with Catholic Holy Name Seminary for August practice facilities. In the past four years the University of Wisconsin has paid approximately a quarter million dollars for the use of the Catholic facility for two weeks each year. This arrangement has been described by the Catholic press as a “financial boost for the seminary.”

In a letter to Pat Richter, Director of Athletics for the University of Wisconsin, Anne Gaylor, Foundation president, has asked again for information.

Her letter concludes: “It is our expectation that the Athletic Department will recognize that honesty is the best policy and that you will be forthcoming regarding our reasonable, legitimate requests made under Wisconsin’s Open Records law.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation