Bishop Raphael Fliss, longtime leader of Superior Diocese, dies at age 84

Duluth News Tribune

By Lisa Kaczke and Brady Slater, News Tribune

As longtime secretary to Bishop Raphael Fliss, Pat Wildenberg came to revere him — no matter how complicated his legacy grew.

“He dealt with difficult situations and I never saw him get outwardly upset with people,” she said. “He was very patient about dealing with every situation that he came across.”

Bishop Fliss, the longest-serving bishop of the Diocese of Superior, died Sept. 21 in a Duluth hospital at age 84.

Fliss guided the diocese for 28 years, the first six as coadjutor bishop alongside Bishop George Albert Hammes. During Fliss’ tenure the diocese went through parish closings and consolidations, and had to adapt to changing needs of the communities it served. He also helped organize the diocese’s 75th and 100th anniversary celebrations. …

In the final years of his tenure, Fliss was involved in controversy over several allegations of sex abuse by priests in the Superior Diocese. Abuse survivors called for Fliss to be investigated after it was revealed that a former Superior Diocese priest sexually assaulted two boys in the early 1980s and the church settled with the victims for nearly $3 million.

Fliss also was alleged to have been involved in the concealment of a priest who assaulted as many as 200 deaf boys in a Milwaukee boarding school before being transferred to the Superior Diocese, where he allegedly abused other boys.

And Fliss apologized in 2006 for poor oversight of a priest in the Diocese who faced allegations of sexual abuse; a judge found probable cause that the priest killed two people in Hudson, Wis., in 2002. The priest later took his own life.

Wildenberg recalled that Fliss would alert people around him to troubling news. He took it to heart, she said.

“He could handle a lot of things and took his time to make the right decision — something some people might fault him with,” she said. “But that patience always impressed me.”

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