Fr William John Burke was a Catholic priest for thirteen years. In 1844 he left the church for good or was invited to leave, it is not clear which. Previous to his exit, he was growing increasingly disenchanted with the church, in fact this seed was sewn back in during his training at Maynooth. In lectures years later he spoke out against the college, particularly about what he perceived to be their disloyalty to the system in place at the time. In his own words: “I entered the college a loyal subject [to the king], but quitted it the vilest rebel”.
In his early career as a priest an incident occurred that had him calling his faith into question. The year was 1832, and he was assisting the Parish Priest of in a nearby parish. While doing the rounds the topic of Confession came up. The older priest told him that he had a murder/robber for confession early that morning and that he absolved the criminal of those sins. Fr Burke did not take the matter up at the time but on his way home the same evening he was met by a parishioner who told him that parish priest refused him absolution of his sins because he attended the baptism of a Protestant child. The Parish Priest told if he wanted his sins absolved that he would have to go to the bishop, to obtain forgiveness of such a damning sin, as he had not the power.
Fr Burke could not begin to understand that cold blooded murder was a lesser sin than being present at a Protestant ceremony. “The Romish priest whom I assisted had the power, and willingly absolved the murderer and robber of Mr. Blood, and the same priest could not nay, peremptorily refused, granting absolution tone of his own parishioners for being present a the baptism of the child of his Protestant friend…”
He remained a Catholic Priest for another twelve years…
Larry O’Neil Photographer
The Belfast Protestant Journal, Saturday March 7 1846
Yorkshire Gazette, June 2 1855. P3
In 1844 he