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Church officials often 'can't remember' cases of priest sex abuse

Whether here in Pennsylvania or any other part of the country, the sex abuse scandals involving priests in the Catholic Church have followed a familiar pattern. One or two victims come forward after years of struggling with the memory of clergy sexual abuse. Those individuals inspire others to share their own stories of abuse, often perpetrated by the same priests.

When an investigation is launched, current and former archbishops and other church officials continue to deny that they knew about any wrongdoing even as evidence strongly suggests otherwise. What is particularly frustrating about these cases is that church officials appear to be cooperating in criminal and civil investigations when they may in fact be doing just the opposite.

This appears to be the problem with testimony given by a man named Harry Flynn, who is the former Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. During his time as Archbishop, Flynn was a prominent national figure in the Church's response to child sex abuse allegations. He led a Catholic bishops' committee on the subject in 2002.

Yet in testimony given earlier this week, he claimed to have almost no memory whatsoever regarding allegations of, responses to or even conversations about child sex abuse in his own archdiocese. He served in that position for 13 years and only left the post in 2008.

Flynn is now 81, and claims that he does not suffer from dementia. Rather, he blames "old age" for the fact that he can seemingly remember nothing about an issue that should have been the most pressing and stressful concern during his time as archbishop.

Among the only things he did admit to remembering was the fact that during his tenure, the archdiocese made payments to priests who had been credibly accused of child sex abuse. He tried to justify that decision by saying: "I felt very strongly that they would not be able to get jobs very easily, and so I wanted to give them some help."

This is one example of the actions of one archbishop, but it reflects a systemic problem. This testimony could just as easily have come from a church official in Philadelphia or other major cities in the U.S.

Sadly, this is the kind of uphill battle victims and their attorneys now face. With persistence and an uncompromising search for the truth, however, this battle can and will be won.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Former Twin Cities Archbishop Flynn does not recall clergy abuse details," Jean Hopfensperger, June 4, 2014

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