Speaking out Flores Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

By Michael Parker
San Antonio Express-News [Texas]
October 25, 1997

The strong vote of confidence given to Monsignor John Flynn last week by more than 1,600 parishioners at St. Matthew's Catholic Church didn't bury the myriad questions his removal raised.

Several people who say they're members of South Texas' largest Catholic parish and have always liked the 70-year-old pastor nevertheless want more public accountability from the Archdiocese of San Antonio about what Flynn actually did and what will be done in response to allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct with an adult woman.

Archbishop Patrick Flores' letter to parishioners two weekends ago was just vague enough to refuel the rampant speculation already spreading through the huge parish about the pastor's removal.

Flores told parishioners Oct. 15 he was concerned for both Flynn and his accuser and outlined actions taken under the archdiocese's sexual misconduct policy.

He said he was awaiting recommendations from St. Luke's Institute in Silver Spring, Md., for appropriate further action but didn't rule out Flynn's eventual return to St. Matthew's.

But the manner and the limited scope of Flores' revelation prompted criticism from laity who want to see more concern for the woman and from priests who believe the sexual misconduct policy treats them as guilty until proven innocent and can be used falsely by anyone with a vendetta to ruin their reputations.

Flores' revelation that Flynn admitted to some allegations raised community concern as to exactly what he admitted to and how serious the misconduct was.

He didn't answer, and his continued silence will invite suspicion of a cover-up.

One parishioner complained that most of the 1,600 attending the Oct. 15 meeting showed little concern for the accuser's suffering.

But her suffering is difficult for many people to assess. They don't know what Flynn did, why she kept silent for 20 years or why she's accusing him now.

Several priests criticized Flores, saying his handling of Flynn's case has damaged priests' morale. One noted the archbishop had no answer when asked how far he was willing to go to defend accused priests.

"Nearly everyone agrees Flynn has worked his tail off for more than 40 years and has been a very good priest," said another, adding:

"If none of that counts and his reputation can be ruined because of one misdeed, no one can stand that. Some priests are thinking, 'It's time to retire. It just isn't worth it anymore.'"

Sadly, it's a sign of the times that people in every walk of life - not just the clergy - can be ruined by even the mere appearance of one misdeed.

Also, shouldn't Flores have given parishioners the dignity of announcing Flynn's removal in person the very week it occurred rather than leave them wondering for three weeks and then give them a vague, impersonal notice read by the associate pastor? Probably.

He's clearly very worried about legal issues, particularly after the recent $120 million civil judgment against the Diocese of Dallas in a child sexual abuse lawsuit which seems likely to encourage more high-dollar suits.

And he's right to be concerned. Every religious authority in the country should be.

But common sense should suggest being much more open and timely - to parishioners and the public - with relevant information on sexual and other types of misconduct to remove any question of institutional wrongdoing or a coverup.

Such questions must be faced. They won't go away.


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