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CNN Novak, Hunt & Shields

Interview with Archbishop Harry Flynn

Aired June 15, 2002 - 17:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Mark Shields and I will question the chairman of the Roman Catholic National Committee on sexual abuse.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: He is Harry Flynn, archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


SHIELDS (voice-over): After a day of debate in Dallas, the Roman Catholic bishops of America voted overwhelmingly Friday for a new policy on sexual abuse.

BISHOP WILTON GREGORY: From this day forward, no one known to have sexually abused a child will work in the Catholic Church in the United States. We bishops apologize to anyone harmed by one of our priests and for our tragically slow response in recognizing the horror of sexual abuse.

SHIELDS: After a single offense, a priest would lose his title, could no longer wear clerical garb, and could not say mass in public. But he would not be defrocked.

That did not satisfy victims groups.

DAVID CLOHESSY, VICTIMS GROUP SPOKESMAN: Their policy seems to be one strike and you're moved to some form of so-called restricted ministry.

We're going a disservice to American Catholics, and we're putting kids at risk if we walk away from Dallas and believe that somehow magically a new day has dawned and enforcement will be consistent and real.

SHIELDS (voice-over): Harry Flynn was ordained in Albany, New York, 42 years ago. He became bishop of Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1989 and archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1995. Archbishop Flynn was appointed two months ago to head the Bishops' National Committee on Sexual Abuse.


SHIELDS: Archbishop Flynn joins us from Dallas.

Thank you very much, Your Excellency.

Archbishop Flynn, why will the church continue to provide care, comfort, salary, shelter to priests who are proven abusers.

ARCHBISHOP FLYNN, MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL: I don't know whether or not we are looking at the same charter. My charter says, if someone offends, he is removed immediately and investigation ensues. At that point, he can apply with laicization, or if he doesn't, the bishop may initiate laicization against his will.

It is only for those -- for purposes of old age or infirmity, that he could be put in a home of some kind where he would not be laicized but, rather, he would have an opportunity of saying mass privately and not wearing the clerical garb.

But I really wondered whether or not we were looking at the same charter when I heard someone speaking prior to my coming on, saying that we were continuing to put children at risk. This charter is for the protection of children. And I don't see anywhere in it, especially in Article 5, where this is any leeway, except for someone because of infirmity or old age who would not ask for laicization nor would the bishop initiate it at that time because of the circumstances.

SHIELDS: Well, then, could we be assured that a 45-year-old priest in good health who had been a sexual predator would be involuntarily laicized?

FLYNN: Or he could ask for it himself. That is what the charter says.

NOVAK: Your Excellency, the bishops seem to have taken care of the priests very well, but who takes care of the bishops? I didn't read anything in the charter as to what is going to be done about bishops who have not performed well in dealing with sexual predators in their dioceses.

FLYNN: That was not within the purview of our mandate. My mandate, as the chair of this committee, was to come forth with a charter for the protection of children and young people. I think we've done that.

There will be, even within that charter, there is a reaching out to the victim-survivor. And that is the first part of that charter, which states that the bishop or his representative must hear the victim-survivor, must respond in various ways to help for that person.

Now, we come to the part where it says that -- states something about the priests getting help too. Of course we would want to help him in order to get the proper psychological care, not only to assist him but for prevention of the same crime in the future.

NOVAK: But Archbishop Law of -- Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston, has been under very severe criticism for not handling this problem well. If he should be disciplined, if indeed he should go to a monastery, who makes that decision? FLYNN: The Holy Father. That is not within the competency even of the United States bishops. Although we did form, at this meeting, a committee which would be looking at future offenses by bishops who would not have acted properly.

You've seen the charter, haven't you?



FLYNN: Have you both read the charter?


FLYNN: And you did see in that charter where there would be a review board set up in each diocese to look at policies, to look at the implementation of those policies.

And then there would be a national board that would look at the work of the local board and, within the archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, within our whole province, we have already passed the guidance for a provincial board, so that the provincial board would be coming into the diocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis looking at the way we have implemented policy, the way we have responded.

Then we will respond to the national board. And the results of this work will be published.

SHIELDS: Archbishop Flynn, you were quoted as saying, "This is a defining moment for us to root out a cancer in our Church."

Why did this cancer grow in the Church?

FLYNN: Well, the reason any cancer grows. The church, as you well know, is human. We in no way make pretense that we are already there in the Kingdom. We're on our way.

FLYNN: And unfortunately, this has been very slow in coming in some dioceses, because we have made tremendous strides in coming to understand this difficulty not only within the Church, but as this difficulty is a reality throughout our society and families and in other areas as the statistics well indicate.

So we're on our way. And this was a defining moment that we have said that anyone who has offended in this way, past, present or future, is out of ministry. And I don't see how there's any loophole with that.

SHIELDS: Absent the "Boston" Globe's coverage and exposure and what went on in the archdiocese of Boston and plaintiffs' attorneys bringing cases in America civil courts, would the church have acted?

FLYNN: I think the church -- I think -- I would like to say this. I would take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the media for what the media has done for the church. I think the media has helped us enormously. And I have expressed my gratitude on the local level in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and I express it to you on the national level.

Thank you for what you have done for the church, because the church has experienced a tremendous humiliation. We have experienced a tremendous purification. And out of this will come a stronger priesthood and a stronger church.

NOVAK: Archbishop Flynn, we just have a short time before we take a break, but there is some confusion whether this charter now goes into effect immediately or whether you require approval from the Vatican. What is the truth of this?

FLYNN: There is a difference between the charter and the norms. The norms would be the -- the norms would be what would be needed, the approval by the Vatican. And I have not seen the completed, ratified copy of the norms yet. We will receive these when we go home.

But that would -- once the recognizio (ph) has been offered by the Vatican, then the norms will become the law for the church in these United States.

NOVAK: Well, I still have to ask you, as a layman I'm confused and I assume the viewers. The very strict rules that you have laid out, are they going into effect immediately?

FLYNN: When we return to our dioceses, we will begin immediately with our review boards to look at this and to start the implementation of it.

NOVAK: OK, we have to take a break. But when we come back, we'll talk about celibacy and women in the priesthood.


SHIELD: Archbishop Flynn, in the wake of this scandal, some critics of the hierarchy, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, have argued that the doctrine of celibacy, which was not present in the first 10 centuries of the church, should be repealed and priests should be allowed to marry and have families. And isn't this a strong argument for that case?

FLYNN: No. First of all, celibacy is not a doctrine. Celibacy is a discipline and, as you so well stated, began in the Church at that time in the history of the Church. It was not always there from the beginning. And it began with a good reason. I would not say that the living the lifestyle or the gift, the carism of celibacy is a reason for our present crisis.

As I mentioned earlier in the first part of this segment, the crime of pedophile, the abuse, sexual abuse of young people or children, goes far beyond the celibate. That happens in families and certainly happens extensively through -- by those who are married. So celibacy is not the issue here.

The issue is the abuse, the sexual abuse of minors and children. That's the issue. And to bring in the ordination of women, doing away with the celibate commitments -- with the celibate lifestyle of discipline is not the issue here. If someone wanted to discuss that in another arena, that would be fine, but not here. Celibacy and the life of celibacy has nothing to do with this crisis or this challenge which we have just faced.

NOVAK: Your Excellency, let me raise another point of criticism of the Church. I'm going to read from a new book about the Church called "Goodbye, Good Men," by Michael S. Rose. And we're going to put the words up on the screen.

It says, "Too often men who support the teachings of the Church, especially the teachings on sexual morality, are dismissed for being rigid and uncharitable homophobes, while those seminarians who reject the Church's teaching or come out as gays to their superiors are given preferential treatment and then ordained to the Catholic priesthood," end quote.

He says the problem, one of the biggest problems of the Church is a gay subculture. Do you think that the bishops should have considered the homosexual problem in the ranks of the priests?

FLYNN: Well, first of all, you're talking to someone who is rector of a seminary, which is mentioned extensively in that book -- Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland. I was rector of that seminary for nine years. And I'm chair of the board of the Seminary of St. Paul on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

And I would dare say that, in my experience, there has been nothing like that. We would not at the Seminary of St. Paul, nor would we at Mount St. Mary's, ordain someone who quarreled with the moral teachings of the church. We simply would not.

Now, whether that has happened in an individual case and I have -- I've looked at the book. I've read parts of it; I haven't read all of it. That certainly seemed to have been the experience of those few people who were speaking.

NOVAK: But he did say...

FLYNN: But to say that...

NOVAK: ... just to make that straight, he did speak favorably of Mount St. Mary's, your seminary, did he not?

FLYNN: Well, then he's a good author.


But to generalize that across the board, I think, would be unfair to the tremendous work that our seminaries are doing within these United States. At this very hour in the hotel in which I'm staying in Dallas, the seminary rectors are meeting. And they continue to meet, and they continue to look at their faculties and try to bring into their faculties fine people who are loyal to the teachings of the church, especially in the area of moral theology and systematic theology.

SHIELDS: Archbishop Flynn, throughout Bob's and my half century almost in Washington here, the Catholic Church has been known in Capitol Hill, in the city, as the most effective, most relentless champion and advocate of the poor in the United States, in our making of public policy.

Now the Church's credibility has been damaged. What will the church do to recapture that damaged credibility so it once again can be an effective advocate for the poor and the other causes?

FLYNN: What the Church has done for the past 2,000 years. The Church has never gone through a period of time when everything was well for it. The Church has suffered either from the outside or the inside.

As we would read the history of the church, one would wonder how could the church ever survive. And yet the church, as McCauley (ph), that great parliamentarian of England, had once written, has seen the rise and the fall of emperors and empires and kings and queens and kingdoms, and the church will go on until the end of time, regaining the credibility that should be hers, because the purpose of the Church is to show forth the face of Jesus Christ in honoring and reverencing every human being.

NOVAK: We have to...

FLYNN: That's the work of the Church.

NOVAK: We have to take another break.

And when we come back, we'll have the big question for Archbishop Flynn of St. Paul/Minneapolis.


NOVAK: The Big Question for Archbishop Harry Flynn.

Your Excellency, the Archbishop of Honduras, Cardinal Rodriguez, has written that the "New York Times," the "Boston Globe," the "Washington Post," and Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, are engaged in a campaign against the Catholic Church. He compares the campaign against the abusers as -- compares it to Diocletian, Nero, Hitler and Stalin.

Do you believe there's any validity to Cardinal Rodriquez?

FLYNN: Not at all. No, I don't believe a word of that. I think the media came onto something. There could be, in individual cases, dislike for the Church, I don't know. But I think the media did its job. I am grateful to the media.

SHIELDS: Archbishop Flynn, given the scandal and the crisis the church faces, the church's position on abortion, on homosexuality, on contraception have been weakened -- its argument has been hurt. FLYNN: That has happened in the past, but it's the church's duty to keep teaching the truth over and over and over. And if we have failed in one way or another or have not pointed out to the truth, which obviously we haven't, then we must correct that but keep teaching the truth with the profound belief that the Lord is with the church and will assist us.

SHIELDS: Archbishop Harry Flynn, thank you very much for being with us.

FLYNN: You're very welcome.

SHIELDS: Robert Novak and I will be back in a moment with a comment.


SHIELDS: Bob, contrary to the defensiveness of some church leaders, Archbishop Flynn was crystal clear and emphatic. He praised the media for bringing this scandal, this crisis in the Church to public light and forcing the Church to act upon it.

NOVAK: Mark, I'm still a little confused about the Vatican. Do they have a veto power over what the bishops have done? I gather that, from what the archbishop said, they go back -- all of the archbishops go back to their dioceses and start this into effect immediately and not have to wait for months or years for an OK from Rome.

SHIELDS: I think you're right.

And Archbishop Flynn made another point, and that was that the only priests who would be in this sort of limbo status -- without clerical garb, without the right to say public mass -- would be aged and infirm priests, who -- the allegations that involved early times, a long time ago.

NOVAK: Mark, I think what the bishops did in Dallas is a lot better than what some of the critics are making it out to be. But there is enormous skepticism, both inside and outside the Church, and I think that the leaders of the Church are going to have to deal with that very, very tough, in a big way.

I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields.

Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Capital Gang, more on the crisis in the Catholic Church, the growing concerns and fears of a dirty bomb attack. Our news-maker of the week is the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, on the 30th anniversary of Watergate. And a live report from South Korea on the magnitude of World Cup soccer.

NOVAK: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.