Retired archbishop is the latest church leader deposed in suit.
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.