Retired Twin Cities Archbishop Harry Flynn, who led a historic U.S. Catholic bishops’ committee in confronting child sex abuse in 2002, testified that he no longer recalls basic information about the sex abuse cases that faced the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis during the same period, according to a court deposition released Wednesday.
Flynn’s sworn statement marks the first time he has spoken publicly since the child sex abuse scandal erupted in the archdiocese last fall.
Questioned about a 2002 chancery memo addressed to him outlining the names of 29 clergy suspected or accused of abuse, Flynn, 81, said he could not remember the names of many priests or their specific offenses.
He said he didn’t remember if he had tried to defrock any priests accused of sex abuse. Even though the 2002 memo called for the archdiocese to take a proactive position on sex abuse, informing churches of abusers who were — or are — in their midst, that never happened.
“I was out of the archdiocese a great deal doing talks on the charter [to protect children] 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.”
Flynn’s deposition is the latest of a high-ranking church official to be made public, following ones of Archbishop John Nienstedt as well as the Revs. Peter Laird and Kevin McDonough, both former vicar generals. They come in response to a lawsuit filed in 2013 on behalf of a man who claimed he was abused decades earlier by the Rev. Thomas Adamson, who later was removed from ministry. It contends that church officials in the Twin Cities and Winona put children and others at risk of abuse by failing to disclose information about priests accused of abuse.
Flynn was archbishop from 1995 to 2008, a period during which the archdiocese investigated reports of abuse that recently have made headlines, including that of the Rev. Michael J. Keating, a professor at University of St. Thomas who was sued last year by a woman charging sexual misconduct. Flynn resigned from St. Thomas’ board of trustees as the Keating case was made public.
Flynn gained national prominence as the chairman of a 2002 committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which in response to the growing sex abuse scandal, created a charter for the protection of children.
But Flynn said he did not believe the scandal was a nationwide “crisis,” adding, “I would simply use the word some matters needed some very close attention.”
‘I don’t recall’
Flynn’s statements were marked by a lack of recollection about the priests accused of child sex abuse in the archdiocese during his tenure and how the archdiocese responded to them.
A large portion of the deposition related to a McDonough-to-Flynn memo dated Aug. 12, 2002 — two months after the charter went into effect.
“We have a significant number of parishes that were served at one time or another … by priests with a history of sexual abuse of minors,” wrote McDonough, who later provided Flynn a list of 29 clergy members.
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for the man filing the 2013 lawsuit, went through the list outlined in the memo, names that were not made public until December.
Flynn said he did not recall the offenses of priests or former priests Robert Thurner, Lee Krautkremer, “Polka Padre” Robert Kapoun, Robert Zasacki, Paul Palmitessa, Tom Gillespie and others.
He did, however, recall the name of Adamson, whose victims had sued the church.
Had Flynn ever met with Adamson? No, he responded.
Had he or his staff ever gone to all the parishes where Adamson worked to learn of other possible victims and help them heal? No.
“I had the impression that all of that was taken care of by my predecessor,” Flynn said.
When asked whether more priests were accused of child abuse after 2002, Flynn said, “I — right now I can’t — I can’t remember any.”
Flynn said he did not report any charges of clergy sex abuse to police during his 13-year tenure, nor did he know whether anyone on his staff did.
Churches where the abusers had served were not routinely informed of an offender in their midst. “I don’t think there was any systemic approach to it, but there could have been a disclosure of one name or two names or more than that to a parish or group,” he said.
Payments to abusers
But Flynn did recall that the archdiocese made special payments to priests who had been credibly accused of abusing children. “I felt very strongly that they would not be able to get jobs very easily, and so I wanted to give them some help,” he said.
Flynn said he couldn’t remember how many priests received the special payments, adding, “I couldn’t take a guess.”
Flynn said he wasn’t sure why he didn’t publicly release the names of clergy members credibly accused of abusing children. If the goal was to protect children, wouldn’t disclosure have been the best option? Anderson asked.
“As we look back on it now, the answer to that would be yes,’’ Flynn said. “But we cannot forget that we were in uncharted water at that time after the charter. And I think that since that time, many improvements have been made in recognizing names of those who had been credibly — credibly accused.”