Legacy includes grappling with clergy abuse crisis

| October 8, 2019 | 0 Comments

Beloved by many for his kindness, sense of ecumenism, gentleness and love for the priesthood, Archbishop Harry Flynn also grappled with vexing issues, including the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

After his ministry as bishop of Lafayette, Louisiana, from 1986 to 1994, he was hailed for compassionate listening to victims of clergy sexual abuse.

He talked about such experiences, and as archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, in the midst of a nationwide clergy sexual abuse scandal in 2002, he was named chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse by Priests.

That committee forged the Dallas Charter, after the site of the U.S. bishops’ meeting where it was approved. The charter set out a “zero tolerance” policy taking priests out of ministry if they were found to have sexually abused a child. It also established policies and procedures designed to raise awareness about abuse and protect children.

Archbishop Flynn retired on his 75th birthday, May 2, 2008. Years later, questions arose about how he dealt with the sex abuse issue in Louisiana and in the Twin Cities archdiocese.

Those questions began in 2013, after Minnesota’s statute of limitations on child sex abuse was temporarily lifted and about 450 victim-survivors came forward with allegations, including people who alleged abuse during Archbishop Flynn’s tenure.

A 2014 Minnesota Public Radio investigation included some victim-survivors and their family members in the Diocese of Lafayette telling the station that then-Bishop Flynn rarely reached out. It also reported that he allowed at least one accused priest to remain in ministry and sought to cover up allegations. Archbishop Flynn never publicly addressed that criticism.

It was not until May 2014, six years after his retirement, that Archbishop Flynn, then 81, was questioned under oath in Minnesota about how abuse allegations were handled while he led the archdiocese. For many of the specific questions — about memos, actions taken, court cases and whether reports were made to police — he responded that he couldn’t remember.

“The longer I get — farther away I get from these situations, the weaker the memory becomes,” he said.

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