Your NPR news source
Former Ald. Edward M. Burke and his wife Anne Burke enter a waiting car outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after he was sentenced to two years in prison Monday.

Former Ald. Edward M. Burke and his wife Anne Burke enter a waiting car outside the Dirksen Federal Courthouse after he was sentenced to two years in prison Monday.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere / Sun-Times

Ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke used Catholic card in bid to soften sentence in corruption case

It’s unclear whether Catholic figures appealing for leniency in letters to the judge affected the two-year sentence given to Burke. But priests, nuns and lay church leaders went to bat heavy for him — after years of the ex-alderman funneling campaign cash to Catholic causes.

Shortly after ex-Ald. Edward Burke was indicted on corruption charges in 2019, church officials said they would wait to see if he got convicted before deciding whether to return a $10,000 donation one of his campaign funds made to a Catholic charitable endeavor overseen by the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“We are awaiting the outcome of the case before making a determination on the donation,” Paula Waters, a spokeswoman for Cardinal Blase Cupich, said at the time.

Since then, Burke’s campaign committees have reported another $50,000 in expenditures to Catholic organizations — and Cupich’s aides won’t say whether they’ve given Burke back any money after his December conviction on racketeering, bribery and attempted extortion, or plan to.

Catholic groups have relied on Burke’s campaign money over the years — with $100,000 given by Burke’s political funds in the three years before he was indicted. More recently, Burke relied on them to try to convince U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to go easy on him when it came time to determine how long he should go to prison, if at all.

Of the more than 200 letters of support sent to Kendall’s courtroom before she sentenced him Monday to two years in prison for corruption — she could have sent him away for eight years or more — 25 came from Catholic priests, nuns and lay church figures.

They shared stories about Burke’s charitable deeds, commitment to Catholic schools and causes, or experience as a practicing Catholic and long-ago seminarian.

One of Burke’s attorneys said at the sentencing hearing Burke was essentially a “priest without a collar.”

Among the 25 letters from Catholic clergy and other Catholic faith leaders on behalf of ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke.

Among the 25 letters from Catholic clergy and other Catholic faith leaders on behalf of ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke.

U.S. District Court

It’s unclear whether Burke’s defense team pulled the Catholic card specifically to appeal to the religious sensibilities of a judge who attended Catholic high school and whose husband is the president of a Catholic school in Waukegan. Burke’s attorneys wouldn’t comment.

Burke’s wife, former Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, invoked Kendall’s faith in a letter in which she cited the judge’s participation in a Catholic women leadership event.

“Compassion, you said, was a value from your Catholic education that you draw on and that you use prayer before making the difficult decisions you face in your work,” Anne Burke wrote. “I pray that you call upon the Holy Spirit to give you compassion when deciding our future.”

If and how letters from Catholic figures impacted Kendall’s decision on Burke’s sentence, which also included a $2 million fine, is unclear. Kendall wouldn’t comment.

But she did reference in court the good deeds conveyed by Burke’s supporters, saying, “These are very personal acts that are not anything to do with authority or public office.”

The Rev. Dan Brandt, a Chicago police chaplain, wrote Kendall, “I cannot speak highly enough of Ed’s rich and active faith life, his good character and his love of neighbor.”

Years earlier, Brandt spoke against the imprisonment of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s patronage chief Robert Sorich, calling his conviction on corruption charges a “miscarriage.”

The Rev. Ken Velo, an aide to late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, wrote, “Your Honor, you are a just and fair judge. Knowing that, I hope that this good man, Edward Burke, is given every consideration possible.”

A letter from Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, a longtime Chicago priest, on behalf of ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke.

A letter from Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, a longtime Chicago priest, on behalf of ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke.

U.S. District Court

The Rev. John Canary, who’d been vicar general under late Cardinal Francis George, wrote that he’s been a longtime friend to Burke, with whom he attended high school.

“It would be a blessing if there might be some quality time remaining for him and his family together.”

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, a priest for years in Chicago, wrote, “In my plea for leniency, I hope that his charitable generosity and the character of his civic life will be taken into consideration.”

St. Bruno Catholic Church at 4751 S. Harding Ave., which ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke has donated a lot of money to over the years.

St. Bruno Catholic Church at 4751 S. Harding Ave., which ex-Ald. Edward M. Burke has donated a lot of money to over the years.

Google Maps

Some Catholic figures writing letters for Burke were leaders of groups that benefited from his campaign money, including Misericordia, which is based on the North Side and serves adults with mental and physical disabilities.

Burke’s campaign funds — fueled by donors who often did business with City Hall or wanted to — made more than $3,000 in donations over the last five years to Misericordia, records show, and more than $100,000 overall over the last 25 years.

The president of St. Rita High School who’s a Catholic deacon and, separately, an Augustinian priest who previously ran the South Side institution, each wrote on Burke’s behalf.

The school has received almost $30,000 in total over the years from his political committees.

Burke’s campaign funds made 14 $200 donations this year alone to St. Bruno Catholic Church at 4751 S. Harding Ave., with nearly $34,000 given over the last two decades.

The Latest
One of the city’s most visible encampments was cleared Wednesday, weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Most of the remaining residents were moved to a city shelter.
Vance went heavy on mentions of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio — and his humble Appalachian roots as documented in ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ — on the third night of the Republican National Convention.
Residents of a Magnificent Mile shelter are evicted to make room for occupants of a tent encampment that’s being cleared ahead of the Democratic National Convention.
They say the stakes of the 2024 presidential election are too high to risk dividing the Democratic Party.
The since-rescinded decision to remove the statue had nothing to do with the former president’s ownership of slaves, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s communications director said.