Flynn Puts His Focus on His Vows

By Stephen Scott
Pioneer Press, carried in Religion Editor [Minnesota]
Downloaded June 24, 2003

Liberal and conservative Minnesota Catholics want his ear, the nation's bishops heed his voice, and his next career move may be in the Vatican's hands at this moment.

But Archbishop Harry Flynn remains a soft-spoken pastor who navigates scandal, church politics and dissent - nationally and in St. Paul - by remembering the vow he took June 24, 1986.

"Seventeen years ago I took my oath that I would uphold the teachings of the church," Flynn said in an interview Monday, recalling his ordination as a bishop.

"I think it's important that everyone within the church has an opportunity to speak and make their opinions known. But the teaching of the church on various subjects is very, very clear."

Recent Twin Cities controversies over gay and lesbian issues, for example, were less about homosexuality than the sanctity of the homily during Mass and chastity outside of marriage, Flynn says.

Even as he mediates a number of local disagreements about church doctrine, Flynn has helped the church in the United States negotiate a year he hopes "will never repeat itself."

As the head of the U.S. bishops' Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, Flynn last weekend in St. Louis told the bishops of the "monumental effort" undertaken to respond to the abuse crisis, "but much also remains to be done."

He said the abuse scandal will demand the time and energy of bishops until abuse audits and surveys of every U.S. diocese are completed. Those reports detailing the implementation of abuse-protection guidelines aren't expected until year's end.

"Once we have all these things in place and people are following the guidelines, then all should be well," he said. "Then it seems to me we can pretty much get back to work, but never to 'business as usual.' "

For his leadership during the crisis, Flynn this Friday will receive the second annual Cardinal Bernardin Award from the Catholic Common Ground Initiative in Washington, D.C.

The group chose Flynn "in particular for the support his archdiocese gave to parishes" during the abuse crisis, according to a statement.

Flynn's name also landed months ago on a short list of rumored successors to embattled Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. Flynn said Monday he has had no formal discussions about heading the Boston archdiocese.

"It's very complimentary," Flynn said of the conjecture, "but I know nothing. Except that whenever anyone is speculated about, it always seems the direct opposite happens. If such-and-such is said to be going to a diocese and you begin to put that rumor out there, someone who was never, ever spoken about seems to go to that particular place."

Boston media have reported that a decision is imminent. The Congregation for Bishops reviews all the recommendations made for a particular diocese, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect for that worldwide group, then presents three candidates to the Vatican, from which the pope selects one.

Flynn said Monday he had no idea where the process stood.

While eyes are on Flynn nationally, he is contending with lay advocacy groups back home that are visibly pressuring the church.

The Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, has expressed frustration at not getting a face-to-face meeting with Flynn. The archbishop responded in the past that SNAP was more interested in making demands and generating publicity than in dialogue.

"We have met with SNAP on many occasions (nationally)," Flynn said Monday. "Often those meetings would be misinterpreted afterward, so the trust level needs to be heightened.

"I think that can best be done on a local level with a local bishop in an atmosphere that is conducive to conversation, not confrontation."

Other lay advocacy groups are vying for attention as well.

Membership in Catholic Parents Online, which promotes "orthodox" church teaching, has doubled in the past two months, founder Colleen Perfect said last week. That group formed in 1998 in part to counter the two decades of efforts of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, which promotes gay-lesbian ministries.

"Many times there will be one group or another that might like church tradition articulated in a more rigid way or in a more liberal manner," Flynn said. "Still, what must prevail is the teaching of the church. Otherwise one would come up with a myriad number of opinions at variance with one another."

The tension is really a culture clash, Flynn said.

"We live in a very interesting culture in this time and place," he said. "We have people who reject that culture in a radical way, and we have people who accept that culture in a rather radical way.

"I think faith should influence the culture, and not the culture influence the faith."

He admits some people believe the bishops' cultural teachings - about the economy, war, sexuality or capital punishment - are less credible because of the abuse scandal, but that "most people" sort out the issues.

"I suppose it depends on whether or not they like what the bishops are saying," Flynn said. "But that can't stop the bishops from speaking. If no one listened to them, or if everyone went another way, the bishops still would have to speak on various subjects."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.