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  Church Not Ignoring Abuse, Flynn Tells Local Catholics

By Stephen Scott
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
May 24, 2002

After a week of regular revelations in the media about clergy accused of sexual misconduct living in Minnesota parishes, Archbishop Harry Flynn told Twin Cities Catholics on Thursday that "this issue is not being ignored by your Church leaders."

"The purification of our Church through this very trying time is a cross to bear by all Catholics," Flynn wrote in his second extensive published statement on clergy sexual misconduct.

In his weekly column in the Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper of which he is publisher, Flynn wrote that the issue "cannot be ignored. It is spoken of wherever we go, reported on nearly constantly, it seems."

Flynn wrote that three priests who are past offenders are serving in administrative capacities in the archdiocese: the Revs. Gilbert Gustafson, Michael Stevens and Joseph Wajda.

Gustafson does research and serves as an aide to archdiocesan administrators.

Stevens works on the archdiocese's computer services team.

Wajda heads the Metropolitan Tribunal, which exercises judicial authority under church law to rule on such matters as annulments of marriage.

"All three of the past offenders' cases have been made public in the past, archdiocesan staff have been notified and none of the three are in positions, now, in which children may be harmed," Flynn wrote.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis distinguishes between administrative assignments and work in parish settings. According to the archdiocese's official statement, there are no known child-abuse offenders serving in parish ministry.

Calling sexual misconduct a "horrendous affront to the human dignity of all involved and an offense against God and the Church," Flynn wrote that it was critical to clarify how abuse cases are handled within the archdiocese.

He wrote at length about the case of Gustafson, who pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in the 1980s. Gustafson, who also serves as chaplain to nuns at the monastery of the Poor Clares in Bloomington, was the subject of broadcast reports last weekend alleging he was celebrating Mass in apparent violation of the archdiocese's abuse policy.

The archdiocese insists that Gustafson serves in a cloistered community of nuns, and that everyone in the community knows of his past, including a "handful" of guests who regularly join the nuns for Mass there, Flynn wrote.

Flynn outlined steps taken once the archdiocese learned of allegations against Gustafson in the early 1980s:

He was charged, pleaded guilty and served time.

He completed probation.

He underwent extensive psychological treatment, which continues.

His ensuing pastoral work was limited to being a chaplain to religious orders.

Flynn in the past has cited research suggesting that past offenders can be of value to the church in helping prevent abuse.

Of Gustafson, he wrote Thursday, "His Church superiors have encouraged his work because he offers an honest account of his failings and helps clergy to understand the importance of the origins and prevention of sexual abuse.

"This work involved a contribution to the Church and to society, without permitting him to have authority over children."

Stevens pleaded guilty in Anoka County Court in 1987 to sexual misconduct with a minor. Wajda appeared in Hennepin County civil court in 1989 for alleged sexual misconduct with a minor, but the case was barred because the statute of limitations on the case had run out.

Flynn was in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with the U.S. Catholic bishops' committee on sexual abuse, of which he is chairman. That committee will report to the full gathering of U.S. bishops next month in Dallas.

He wrote that he would continue to apprise Catholics through the archdiocesan newspaper of the committee's work "as we approach the meeting in June and afterward."

 
 

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