Church Clears Bishop Dudley
Sex-Abuse Allegations Unfounded, Review Finds
By Jill Callison
Argus Leader [Sioux Falls SD]
February 13, 2003
Bishop Paul Dudley, the retired leader of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, has been cleared of sexual-abuse allegations after a six-month investigation, church officials said Wednesday.
An investigator hired by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis interviewed more than 50 people and concluded that the allegations of abuse by three people were not supported by the evidence.
A retired judge then reviewed the findings at the church's request and confirmed the investigator's judgment, officials said.
"I feel vindicated by the conclusions," Dudley, 76, said in a phone interview from his home in Northfield, Minn. "As I've said many times through the past months, I will continue to pray for the comfort and healing of the accusers."
In a statement from Archbishop Harry Flynn, which was read at a Wednesday morning news conference, Flynn said, "I intend to call on him to help me, especially in confirmation ceremonies."
Dudley, who served the Sioux Falls Diocese from 1978 to 1995, voluntarily withdrew from all priestly duties after the first sexual abuse allegation was made last May. From the beginning, he denied the charges.
Dudley's case became public at a time when the Catholic Church in the United States was facing a firestorm of sexual-abuse allegations.
Michael Flaherty, 58, of Minneapolis said Dudley abused him more than 45 years ago when he was an altar boy at a south Minneapolis parish. Two additional complaints were presented privately to the archdiocese by women alleging misconduct by Dudley in the 1960s and '70s.
Flaherty could not be reached for comment.
His lawyer, 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 it favored the retired bishop.
"I think it's unfortunate that he would make those comments about this investigation," Dudley's lawyer, Bob McCollum of Minneapolis, said of Anderson's remarks. "It was as thorough as one could ever imagine, and it was independent."
The archdiocese hired Richard Setter, former police chief for Minnetonka and St. Louis Park, Minn., to investigate the three claims.
Abuse claims rebutted
Richard Solum, a former Hennepin County, Minn., district judge who now is 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.
Setter said some important aspects of Flaherty's claims were contradicted by other sources, including classmates and friends from that period in Flaherty's life.
In one example, Flaherty said Dudley had access to him when Flaherty counted offering money as an altar boy. Others who were involved in the church at the time said children weren't allowed to count money.
In his report, Solum wrote 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."
Solum was referring to the standard of proof required in civil trials as opposed to the stricter standard for criminal verdicts. The statute of limitations for a criminal case has expired.
He pointed out that Dudley has a reputation for honor and spirituality, while Flaherty's reputation includes a felony conviction for burglary.
"Many of the people who were interviewed by Chief Setter would perhaps be best characterized as friends or former friends, yet they produced information which directly contradicted how matters were handled back then by Mr. Flaherty," McCollum said.
The names of the two women who made allegations were not released after they were assured of confidentiality. Solum also backed Setter's conclusions in their instances.
In the case of one woman, he said the available evidence failed to 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.
Archdiocesan Vicar General Kevin McDonough said he didn't question the two women's sincerity, but the investigation couldn't establish sufficient evidence of any misconduct by Dudley.
Bishop Robert Carlson, who served with Dudley in Sioux Falls before the older man's retirement, is out of state but issued a prepared statement.
"I have never wavered in my absolute confidence that he was incapable of causing harm to someone as the accusation suggested," Carlson said. "Watching the humility and dignity with which he has handled these past many months has only deepened my admiration."
Catholics who knew Dudley from his years in the Sioux Falls Diocese rejoiced in the news that the retired bishop had been exonerated.
"I've known him for over 20 years, and I've known him to be a really holy and sincere individual," said Jerry Andrews of Sioux Falls. "No way we ever believed he was guilty."
Andrews said he does not excuse any proven instances of sexual abuse by clergy.
"I'm not defending the whole situation, but I especially deplore it when a really good person like Paul Dudley is accused."
Dennis Seiner of Sioux Falls once lived in the same neighborhood as Dudley. "He'll be able to get back to public ministry," Seiner said. "The church needs him. He certainly has a lot of gifts to give yet."
The Rev. Roger Fredrikson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church, said, "I rejoice in the truth. I prayed through these nine months that Bishop Dudley would be cleared. I felt at the very beginning that the charges were false."
Monsignor Marvin McPhee, who served the Sioux Falls Diocese with Dudley and now is retired, called the news "great."
"He was and still is a great spiritual force for all the people he served," McPhee said.
In a prepared statement released by the archdiocese, Dudley said, "I am profoundly thankful that this difficult and personal ordeal is finally over. 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."
Both Flynn, the archbishop, and Carlson said they hope that anyone with allegations of clergy misconduct will come forward.
Flynn said he feared that the resolution in this case may be seen as a "sign of disrespect for victims. That would deeply sadden me."
"I also repeat my concern for all who have been harmed by abuse, especially those harmed by someone associated with the Church," Carlson said. "Please know of my great desire to assist you."
Fourteen people have contacted the Sioux Falls Diocese since last spring to report they were sexually abused earlier in their lives. Not all of those cases occurred in South Dakota or involved contact by a priest.
The Sioux Falls Diocese established a lay committee to review reported cases of sexual abuse. Leon Cantin of Yankton, a deacon and a former law enforcement official, is the committee's chairman.
"Bishop Carlson has been assertive and aggressive in trying to encourage victims to come forward," he said. "I do honestly feel our committee has gotten all the information it should get regarding cases, and there's been some very honest deliberation."
Sister Mary Carole Curran, director of Catholic Family Services, hopes victims will continue to come forward.
"We want to provide as much therapy and support as we can for victims," she said.
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