Minnesota's Catholic Church leaders are working to restore faith in the church and strengthen its policies against sexual abuse by clergy. Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese has been leading a nationwide task force on abuse, and Flynn spent Friday in conferences with clergy around the region. Flynn says he hopes the updates to church policy outlined at the Vatican this week will make it easier to weed out offenders in the church and bring immediate help to victims. However, he says rules and policies may never overcome human weakness.
Flynn spoke to the media in between teleconferences with bishops of the diocese in Minnesota and the Dakotas. He says the conversations included discussions of the Vatican's call for a one-strike policy against clergy who have engaged in sexual misconduct.
Flynn says the bishops are examining the idea of making the one-strike policy apply to priests with past offenses and they are considering having outside audits of parishes to make sure they are following priest misconduct policies.
"It would be my hope that there would be something like that in place on a national level so that every diocese would be accountable to an outside group coming in and looking at the policies of a particular diocese and the implementation of those policies," Flynn said.
In the wake of molestation charges against priests in the Boston archdiocese some have suggested that the church should reconsider its requirement that priests remain celibate. However, Flynn says celibacy is a gift that not everyone can possess. And he says the criticism of celibacy is off-target.
"If we're going to talk about celibacy when we're having a pedophilia problem, it would be like having a flat tire and going to the garage and telling them you need a new muffler. They are two distinct entities. Celibacy - one entity. Pedophilia is a pathology," he said.
Flynn says the church needs to do more to make sure that complaints against priests are not lost in church bureaucracy. And he says the outside audits will help accomplish that. But he also says the church already has safeguards in place to screen out potential offenders in the seminary. Flynn says seminary students are subjected to psychological tests and must attend classes on sexual orientation and celibacy.
The Minneapolis-St.Paul archdiocese began developing sexual misconduct policies in the '80s under former Archbishop John Roach. Flynn says the policies have undergone several updates over the years. He says the church of today is much less likely to contain active offenders.
However, victim advocate Phyllis Willerscheidt says sees the results of past clergy abuse everyday.
"They're very upset. Sometimes it takes them awhile to build trust again because they've been betrayed. Their trust has been betrayed," according to Willerscheidt, who has been working with victims of clergy abuse at the Minneapolis-St. Paul archdiocese since 1990.
She says in her time here she has seen about 50 to 75 cases of abuse. Willerscheidt says the majority of the cases involve people who were abused by priests when they were children 20 to 30 years ago. She says she gets calls and e-mails from people from around the country. Willerscheidt says her clients may ask her to talk to the archbishop about their problems. But sometimes she says she's there just to listen.
"My role is to provide options to them and ask them what their needs are right now. And it might be just as simple as they just want to tell their story and I'm all done and I'm fine and leave. And then they might come back a year later or something or they might never come back, just because they told their story," she said.
Flynn says currently the archdiocese faces no sexual abuse suits and has no known offenders serving in parish positions. However, Flynn added that there's no way to ever be completely rid of what he says is the human inclination to do evil.