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Catholics in Crisis

June 14, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: And joining me now is Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis; he’s chairman of the bishops’ ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, which produced the first draft of the charter approved today. Welcome Archbishop Flynn. Thank you for joining us.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I’m glad to be with you.

MARGARET WARNER: Walk us through, if you could, what is going to happen to abuser priests and will priests who are found guilty of abuse in the future now be treated exactly as those who have had incidents in the past?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I think that answer would be given in the charter itself. They would not be able to continue in that role as priests.

MARGARET WARNER: So what does that mean? What would happen to a priest who can no longer remain in ministry but is not– I think your term is laicized-or as popularly said defrocked. What would happen to that priest?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: Either the choice of laicization or dismissal from the clerical state but he might not want that, but he would not be able to act in any capacity as a priest.

MARGARET WARNER: I don’t understand. Where would he live? What would he do? Would the public still see him as a priest?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: Can you speak a little more loudly, please? I can’t quite hear you.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m trying to understand where that priest would work. Would he be in a monastery, or would the public still see him as a priest?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: That could be offered as an option if he so wished but, on the other hand, he would probably get a position somewhere else and work somewhere else in society, but he would not be coming through as a person with that kind of authority, which is always– not always, but many times carries with it or connotes with it some element of authority.

MARGARET WARNER: And is it correct to say he would not be allowed to wear clerical garb?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: That is correct, as far as that could be implemented but none of us can control what others wear. But, nevertheless, we would encourage that not to be done but there would be a meeting and a very hopefully nurturing relationship between that person and his bishop that could never be broken but nevertheless that person would not be able to continue in a capacity as a priest according to that vote today, which was passed.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you have any sense of how many priests there are who have been found guilty of abuse in the past, have gone through treatment, are now working as priests who are going to be affected by this and removed from their jobs?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I would not have that number. But I would know that there were some. And I think the 13 who voted against the charter today had that in mind because there have been those who have– in any situation with any kind of proclivity or obsession or compulsion, there are those that can go through treatment, and with any kind of a program, the 12-step program or anything like that, and keep that proclivity under a certain control.

But what the bishops were saying today is that that was not enough. The bishops wanted a restoration of trust and a restoration of credibility. And as one bishop spoke so well and so eloquently, that it is very important to keep the relationship with that person who had served as a priest, who had gone through treatment and all the rest, but nevertheless, that he could not continue to work in that capacity in the church.

MARGARET WARNER: Now there was also, of course, from the victims, great pressure to go completely the other way, to have true zero tolerance and to just say anyone guilty after because should be removed from the priesthood all together. Why didn’t you go that far?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I think when you read the norms that are being passed on right now, they’re being looked at, these will be the norms, which will be used to implement the charter. And I believe that in these norms, there would be room for that in the norms itself– themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry. Room for what?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I beg your pardon.

MARGARET WARNER: My question was, why didn’t the conference today go as far as some victims wanted, which was just to take all sort of judgment and discretion out of it and say one strike, you’re out, that’s it?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: It’s not a matter of– the charter did say that today, but at the same time we have a canon law of the church, and that procedure must be followed. So there is a procedure for what you are talking about, a canonical procedure which must be followed if we are going to be true to the laws of the church. And the laws of the church, the canonical procedure does call for that, and there is a process for that.

MARGARET WARNER: Now is there– what makes this binding on bishops? I noted some bishops said today during the debate, they would be uncomfortable enforcing parts of this.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: Would you speak again, please?

MARGARET WARNER: Is this mandatory, and how will it be enforced on all bishops?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: It will be enforced on the bishops because there is going to be a national office. That national office is for the protection of young– of children and young people. That national office will relate to every diocese in these United States and make public the implementation of this policy and the implementation of the review board in every given diocese in these United States.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about a couple of things that were not in the document. The first deals with the bishops culpability. And Bishop Gregory had some tough words yesterday about that. That is not addressed here. There are no sanctions for bishops who might have helped cover up priestly abuse. Why was that not addressed?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: Because that is going to be addressed– there is a committee that was appointed today. We have a committee on the bishops’ life in ministry. The committee is going to look at that particular issue and come up with a conference in a manner in which that can be handled. We simply couldn’t cover everything in these two or three days. But it will be covered.

MARGARET WARNER: Are there a lot of bishops who think that there should be some sanctions applied to bishops who, say, many, many times, let priests, transferred priests who had been guilty of abuse in the past?

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: We are going to wait for the work of that particular commission. And that particular commission will bring back the fruit of their work to the full body at which time it will be discussed. And I don’t imagine that will happen now until November.

MARGARET WARNER: Another issue that some on the outside wished to have addressed was a greater role for the laity in the management — governance of the church. That also was not really addressed. I wonder why.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: Well, how much can you address in two days? We can’t cover everything in two days. That topic, however, was expanded on by the development of boards in the diocese and in the provinces and then in the national office of the Catholic Bishops. But spelling that out today would not have been possible. Remember, this is a charter to chart us through these difficult times and these troubled waters. So that’s what we are using today.

And we did touch on the integrating– not integrating but rather the — requesting the help of lay women, lay men who are experienced in this particular issue, judges, medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and those who have had tremendous amount of experience with the young, and asking them to come in and work on our diocese review boards, if we don’t have one in place, and then the provincial review boards, and then also the national board.

MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday you had several victim address you, and I just wonder what impact you thought they had on your deliberations.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I think that they had a tremendous effect on all of the bishops. And you could not help but be affected by that kind of a story. However, I think pretty much the bishops knew– each Bishop knew what he was going to vote for before he came to Dallas.

MARGARET WARNER: And you also — there was also some rather pointed criticism from a couple of church thinkers. And I just wonder what it was like for all of you bishops to sit there and have this criticism delivered in public like that.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I didn’t experience that as criticism. You mean from the speakers?


ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: No, I did not consider that as criticism. I considered that as sharing. And, in my judgment — you’re talking about Mr. Appleby and Margaret Steinfels?

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, I am, Mr. Appleby talked about the arrogance of power that he thought that the bishops had been guilty of. You didn’t take that as criticism.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: I didn’t, no, because I know them both. I know their great love for the church and it is never criticism when one calls another person forth to a fuller life, and that’s the way I experienced it.

MARGARET WARNER: Archbishop Flynn, thank you very much.

ARCHBISHOP HARRY FLYNN: You’re very welcome.