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Flynn letter on racism draws applause
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Archbishop Harry Flynn didn't dwell on the criticism he's received except to note he's heard from people who have said the church has more pressing problems to deal with. (MPR Photo/Dan Olson)
Archbishop Harry Flynn received a warm welcome at a community forum in north Minneapolis on Tuesday. One African American speaker after another praised the head of the St. Paul Minneapolis archdiocese for his recent pastoral letter on racism. Flynn was applauded for calling on Catholics to root out racism in the church and society.

Minneapolis, Minn. — An overflow audience at Lucille's Kitchen gave Archbishop Harry Flynn a hero's welcome. A panel of speakers at a weekly forum, broadcast on radio station KMOJ, praised his assertion that the racism he sees in Minnesota is no less real and no less serious than what he saw as archbishop in Louisiana.

Flynn wrote in his September pastoral letter that Minnesotans who claims there is no racism and no problem here speak from ignorance.

"I've had people praying for you because the stand that you've taken, I can imagine the many hits that you're going to get within your own community," said Rev. Ian Bethel of New Beginnings Tabernacle Church.

Flynn didn't dwell on the criticism he's received except to note he's heard from people who have said the church has more pressing problems to deal with.

Flynn's pastoral letter on racism was encouraged by church members who serve on the one of the Archdiocese's advisory councils. Racism emerged as a primary problem as they considered a range of social issues they wanted the archbishop to address.

Flynn says his views on racism are also influenced by his work as bishop in Lafayette, La. A Catholic school near his office had Johnny Reb as the school mascot, and white parents routinely unfurled Confederate flags at games.

Flynn told the parents to drop the mascot and the flag saying they were offensive symbols to blacks. He says the parents were angry and at a meeting to talk about the issue, Flynn says, a white parent asked one of the school's few black parents what he thought.

"'You don't mind that do you?' And the African American man didn't say anything, and after the meeting he said to me, 'You're right on target, but I was not really free to say what I wanted to.' And of course he was not because all of these other people were so vocal. So, I think it is a matter of sensitivity, tremendous sensitivity as to what is going on within my own heart and what is going on within your heart and how do you feel about a remark that I might make and how do you feel about the flag that might be flung in your face which symbolizes something to you that may not symbolize that to me at all," Flynn said.

One of the forum speakers who commended Flynn said the root of racism is wrapped in religion and praised him for turning the light on. Other speakers qualified their praise by saying the church has been silent too long.

Audience member Liz Samuels says Flynn is right to direct his comments at church members.

"I've often said that if people are practicing Christianity and they haven't been able to understand what's been happening to people of color in this country then they don't really understand the configuration of oppression and they don't understand what it's like to mistreat people and to treat people based on their skin color as an unequal person," Samuels said.

Rev. Ian Bethel says Flynn's pastoral letter on racism is directed at believers who are school board members, police officers and others who need to examine their own beliefs and behavior.

"And the way that I'm going to change is that I'm going to deal with it within myself and then I will then also make it a point to talk to another white person whose racist like me and like I have changed I will help them change," Bethel said.

Bethel invited Flynn to continue the dialogue on racism and Flynn said he would. The archbishop's pastoral letter was sent this fall to the 221 parishes in the Archdiocese. There's an accompanying study guide encouraging parish leaders to make a connection with people of color. A spokesman for the Archdiocese says other denominations have requested copies and there'll be another printing of the 22-page document.

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