METHUEN — Members of St. Lucy Parish received some surprising news in the bulletin this weekend.
In his weekly letter to parishioners, the Rev. Richard Burton, pastor at St. Lucy Parish, admitted that he has an alcohol problem.
"For my own health and to answer God's call to the holiness of the priesthood with which I am blessed, I have asked for help," he wrote.
Tomorrow, Burton will go to the Guest House at Rochester, a treatment center for Catholic clergy in Minnesota. According to its web site, Guest House is a nonprofit, charitable organization opened in Michigan in 1956. Its mission is the treatment of Catholic priests, deacons, brothers, seminarians and — since 1994 — nuns with alcoholism, other chemical dependencies and related problems.
Burton did not speak of the contents of the letter in his homily during yesterday's 4 p.m. Mass. At the end of the service, he told parishioners the Rev. William Kremmell will serve at St. Lucy while he is gone. Kremmell, a priest since 1966, retired from St. Athanasius parish in Reading.
In an interview after Mass, Burton said he was keeping a promise he made to the Rev. Dennis Nason before Nason died on Oct. 4. Nason, the long-time pastor of All Saints Parish in Haverhill, sponsored Burton when he entered the priesthood.
"He told me, 'I can't tell you what to do, but I'll pray for you,'" Burton said.
Burton then told Nason he would seek professional help, to which Nason responded, "It's a good idea."
"There's no scandal, but if I disappear, the first thing people were going to wonder was, 'What did he do?'" Burton said yesterday. "I just wanted to be up front and deal with it. In this day and age when so many thing things are happening in the church, I didn't want anyone gossiping about me."
In addition to St. Lucy, Burton is chaplain at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen.
Burton was born in Haverhill and joined the priesthood after serving in the Navy for 20 years and teaching physics at Malden High School for four years.
Burton, 50, was ordained in 2003 and was parochial vicar of Holy Rosary Church in Lawrence for two years. Before coming to Methuen, he was pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Salem and Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Peabody, as well as chaplain at Bishop Fenwick, where he teaches physics.
In his letter to St. Lucy parishioners, Burton said his seven years as a priest "have been difficult at times. I dealt with many of these issues with alcohol."
Burton said in his letter that he thought transferring to Methuen would be the solution because he would be closer to his family.
"It was not the fix-all solution I envisioned. And that is not because of anyone here; quite the opposite. I have never been in a better place with a better staff anywhere in my life. But I cannot get out of the pattern I have created for myself over this past year."
Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said Burton "has the support of the diocese and of the parish.
"Obviously we're very proud of Father Burton. He's showing great courage and strength by setting an example for others," Donilon added. "We pray for his care and look forward to his return."
Father Burton's Letter
The following is the full text of the letter the Rev. Richard Burton wrote to St. Lucy parishioners in this weekend's church bulletin:
From the Desk of the Pastor
For about a year or so I have reflected on what I might say at this moment. I saw it coming. My seven years of priesthood (the closing and merging part) have been difficult at times. I dealt with many of these issues with alcohol. Thinking that a change of venue, a new beginning at Saint Lucy's close to home, might be the solution, I requested a transfer. It was not the fix all solution I envisioned. And that is not because of anyone here; quite the opposite. I have never been in a better place with a better staff anywhere in my life. But I cannot get out of the pattern I have created for myself over this past year. For my own health and to answer God's call to the holiness of the priesthood with which I am blessed, I have asked for help.
This Monday, 25 October, I will travel to the Guest House at Rochester in Minnesota. It is a catholic clergy treatment center for addictions. Step one is a full evaluation by medical personnel. This takes approximately three weeks. At the end of that process I will either then return to Saint Lucy's and PMA (Presentation of Mary Academy) involved in a local outpatient program or remain in Minnesota for an inpatient program a for a yet to be determined length of time. In any case I pledge to do everything in my power to return to our parish and my school ministry.
It is truly a most humbling moment. I pledge to come back and hit the deck plates running (Navy talk). I promised that to Father Nason, may he rest in peace, and I promise that to you and my family now. Please support those who will hold down the fort in my absence. Please pray for me as I pray for you.
Peace. Father B