No child sex abuse 'crisis' in Twin Cities archdiocese, ex-archbishop says

By Emily Gurnon
Pioneer Press
June 4, 2014

Former Archbishop Harry Flynn listens during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new wellness center at Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Residence in St. Paul on Tuesday, November 20, 2013.

The former Twin Cities archbishop said in a six-hour deposition that he could not recall any circumstances involving sexual abuse of children by priests that "should have been handled better."

Retired Archbishop Harry Flynn was asked whether there were any such situations during his 13 years as archbishop. "No. I can't think of any," Flynn said.

Nor did he believe there was ever a "crisis" pertaining to child sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

He said he never reported information about suspected abusers to police and didn't know whether anyone on his staff did.

St. Paul attorney Jeffrey Anderson took Flynn's deposition May 14 as a part of a lawsuit filed in May 2013 against the archdiocese and former priest Thomas Adamson. Anderson's office released a transcript and video copy of the deposition Wednesday.

The archdiocese also posted the transcript on its website. It did not comment on the deposition's content, saying it was court-ordered testimony "that speaks for itself."

Flynn was out of town Wednesday, according to his attorney, Thomas M. Kelly.

"The archbishop made every effort to cooperate and recall things that occurred 10, 12 years ago," Kelly said.

In response to dozens of questions posed by Anderson, Flynn responded that he did not remember events surrounding the sexual abuse of children by priests, blaming his age for his lack of recall.

Flynn, 81, could not remember whether the public had ever been informed of the allegation against the Rev. Michael Keating, a professor at the University of St. Thomas before it was exposed via a lawsuit in October. Keating was accused in 2006 of sexually abusing a teenage girl. He kept working until the girl sued in 2013. Anderson represents her.

Flynn could not recall whether he had ever tried to get a priest defrocked, or whether any lists were compiled of priests in the archdiocese who had sexually abused children.

When Anderson asked him about certain accused priests on a list publicized by the archdiocese and reported extensively in media accounts, he said he was hearing those names for the first time. They include Tim McCarthy, Tom Gillespie, Eugene Corica, Harold Whittet, Rudolph Henrich, Joseph Heitzer and Harry Walsh.

Anderson's co-counsel, Michael Finnegan, said the purported lack of memory is "something that we've seen unfortunately too many times from a lot of the top (church) officials who have made the choice to, instead of answering questions truthfully ... to claim a lack of memory."

Too many of the events he was asked about "were extremely important things," Finnegan said. "They aren't the type of things that one would ever forget."

Flynn said he has had no diagnosis of memory impairment. He added that he is "on an enormous amount of medication" but that age "has more to do with (his memory)" than any other factor.

Ordained in 1960, Flynn became co-adjutor, or successor, to Archbishop John Roach in 1994 and was installed as archbishop in 1995. He served until May 2008, when he retired and was succeeded by current Archbishop John Nienstedt.

In 2002, Flynn chaired the U.S. Bishops Committee on Sexual Abuse. When the conference of bishops met in Dallas, Flynn helped craft what became known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter sets out procedures to respond to allegations of sexual abuse by priests, among them requiring officials to report such allegations to civil authorities.

At one point in his deposition, Flynn said that job kept him out of town for long periods of time.

It was his responsibility to protect the children of the archdiocese, he said, and he participated in a few meetings with parishes that had had abusive priests.

But he was "out of the diocese a great deal doing talks on the charter and trying to get dioceses on board," Flynn said. "And it's unfortunate that we did not pay more attention to this as a result."

He said former Vicar General Kevin McDonough was his primary adviser on issues of sexual abuse.

Flynn stepped down as chairman of the University of St. Thomas' Board of Trustees last October. His retirement followed reports on how the archdiocese handled the investigation of sexual misconduct accusations against Keating. McDonough resigned as vice chairman of the St. Thomas board earlier that month.

Flynn spoke at relative length about two priests he believed were falsely accused.

One was Keating.

The former archbishop said he met with the accuser and her parents at the time of her initial accusation. He doesn't recall what the alleged sexual contact was, he said, but "I remember realizing or thinking at the time that it was not sexual abuse, but rather, boundary issues, which took place in the presence of the parents."

Keating has denied any abuse.

Flynn said he remembers "chiding" the girl's father. "I was suspicious of the mother and father ... I don't know why, but I was ... they kept interrupting the daughter and filling in and suggesting what might have happened, whether she was able to say so or not and I wondered what part they played in all of this."

He did not recall the girl saying Keating had rubbed her breasts or rubbed his genitals against her, Flynn said.

Flynn defended Bishop Paul V. Dudley, who was accused of fondling an 11- or 12-year-old altar boy in the 1950s when he was a priest at Annunciation Church in Minneapolis. Dudley denied the charges and an internal church investigation cleared him of wrongdoing. Anderson's office said that Dudley was accused in more than one instance and that the accusations were credible.

"I can tell you ... in my judgment, it was the most ludicrous accusation that could have been made about anyone," Flynn said. "He was accused of dancing on a floor in his cassock ... and coming close to a young lady and some years ago."

Anderson asked why he would describe an accusation against Dudley as "ludicrous."

"Because I knew Bishop Dudley so well and it was just incompatible, that kind of behavior... was incompatible with his character," Flynn said.

Surely he knew of other esteemed priests who were found to have committed sexual offenses, Anderson said.

Flynn said where there was smoke, there was fire.

In his judgment, "many great, great men like Bishop Dudley could have been accused ... and found to be exonerated, free of all those accusations by people who were just not right in the head."

Dudley died in 2006. Flynn said he did not remember if Dudley was the subject of more than one accusation.

On the recent disclosures of payments the archdiocese made to priests accused of abuse, Flynn defended the practice.

Anderson asked in particular about former priest Gil Gustafson receiving payments after he was "placed on a disability for pedophilia."

"He would not be receiving payments for pedophilia," Flynn said. "He'd be receiving payments because he victimized and is not able to work at an adequate position anymore. That's why he would receive payments."

What message does that send to the victims of abuse, Anderson asked.

"I don't know, but what message would it send to the world if we threw these priests out in the street without any difficulty -- without any assistance?" Flynn responded.

It would also send a powerful message if the files on abusive priests were given to police, wouldn't it, Anderson asked.

"Powerful message, yes," Flynn said.

Anderson asked why that had not been done.

Flynn said he didn't know. At this point, he said, "That will be up to the present archbishop."

The deposition was taken as a part of discovery in Doe 1 vs. the archdiocese, the Diocese of Winona and Thomas Adamson.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit accuses Adamson of molesting him in the 1970s when Adamson served at St. Thomas Aquinas in St. Paul Park.

Doe 1 also accuses church officials of creating a "public nuisance" by moving him from parish to parish despite allegations of child sexual abuse.



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