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  Church Probe Says Evidence Doesn't Support Allegation against Retired Bishop

By Ashley H. Grant
Associated Press State & Local Wire [St. Paul]
February 12, 2003

Catholic church officials on Wednesday declared Paul Dudley, the retired bishop of Sioux Falls, S.D., cleared of sexual abuse allegations after an investigation commissioned by the church.

An investigator hired by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis interviewed more than 50 people over the last six months and concluded that the allegations of abuse by three people were not supported by the evidence.

A retired judge reviewed the findings at the church's request and confirmed the investigator's judgment, the church said.

"I now believe the time has come to remove the shadow of the accusation from Bishop Dudley," Archbishop Harry Flynn said in a statement read by Vicar General Kevin McDonough.

Flynn welcomed Dudley's full return to ministry to perform sacramental duties from time to time.

"I intend to call on him to help me, especially in confirmation ceremonies," Flynn said.

The sexual misconduct claims were made public last May, when Michael Flaherty, 58, publicly said Dudley abused him more than 45 years ago when he was an altar boy at a south Minneapolis parish. Two additional complaints were privately presented to the archdiocese by women alleging misconduct by Dudley in the 1960s and 70s, respectively.

The archdiocese hired Richard Setter, former police chief for Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, to independently investigate the three claims. Setter said some important aspects of Flaherty's claims were contradicted by other sources, including former friends and classmates.

For instance, Flaherty said Dudley had access to him when he counted money as an altar boy, but others who were involved in the church at the time said children weren't allowed to count money.

"I am profoundly thankful that this difficult personal ordeal is finally over," Dudley, 76, said in a statement. "While living under the cloud of these accusations has been one of the greatest challenges of my life, I never lost faith and confidence that the truth would prevail."

Flaherty could not be reached for comment.

His attorney, Jeffrey Anderson of St. Paul, said he was outraged that he wasn't notified of the results of the investigation before church officials held a news conference. Anderson was traveling in California and hadn't yet talked to his client.

"They have put Mike Flaherty in great peril," he said. "He's had some serious emotional difficulties. I am desperately trying to reach him now."

Anderson hadn't had a chance yet to review the results of the investigation, but said it came "as no great shock" that the investigation favored the retired bishop.

Dudley, who now lives in Northfield, denied that he ever sexually abused anyone or violated any sexual boundaries. But he withdrew from all priestly ministry until the investigation was completed.

Richard Solum, a former Hennepin County district judge who is now in private practice, reviewed Setter's investigation. Neither Setter nor Solum are Catholic, and neither has done any previous work for the archdiocese, officials said.

Solum wrote in his report to Flynn that the archdiocese could "reasonably and in good faith" rely on Setter's investigation and his conclusion that the evidence failed to support a finding "that it is more likely than not that Michael Flaherty's claim against Paul Dudley is true."

The former judge was referring to the standard of proof required in civil trials as opposed to the stricter standard for criminal verdicts.

He also mentioned that Dudley had "a reputation for honorableness, service and spirituality, while (Flaherty) has a more difficult reputation and past as it could relate to truthfulness, including a felony conviction for burglary."

Regarding the two women, whose names were not disclosed because of confidentiality assurances, Solum also backed Setter's conclusions. In the case of one woman, he said the available evidence failed meet the civil standard of proof. In the other case, he deferred to Setter's conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support her charge.

McDonough said he didn't question the sincerity of the two women, but that the investigation couldn't establish sufficient evidence of any misconduct by Dudley. He offered them the archdiocese's help with counseling and therapy, should they desire it.

Flynn said he feared that the resolution in this case may be seen as a "sign of disrepect for victims. That would deeply sadden me."

He said hundreds of hours had been dedicated to these three cases and urged any others with allegations of clergy misconduct to bring them to him.

"Please come forward so that we can continue the work of restoring trust," he said.

 
 

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