Betrayed by Silence: A Radio Documentary. How three archbishops hid the truth of clergy sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults

Madeleine Baran, Betrayed by Silence: A Radio Documentary. How three archbishops hid the truth. MPR (Minnesota Public Radio), 14 July 2014. “For decades, the archbishops who led the Catholic archdiocese in the Twin Cities [Minneapolis/St. Paul] maintained that they were doing everything they could to protect children from priests who wanted to rape them. Reporters picked up those assurances and repeated them without question. Police and prosecutors took the assurances at face value. Parents believed the assurances and trusted priests with their children. But the assurances were a lie, and the archbishops knew it. Three of them — John Roach, Harry Flynn…and John Nienstedt — participated in a cover-up that pitted the finances and power of the church against the victims who dared to come forward and tell their stories. [This] radio documentary…draws on dozens of interviews, thousands of never-before-published documents and insider accounts to explain how and why powerful men protected priests who abused children.

The deception began in southern Louisiana, where Flynn arrived in 1986 as bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette. He was there to fix the first national clergy sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church. Flynn pledged to protect children and restore the faith of parishioners. In fact, he rarely met with victims, and used attorneys to fight victims in court and protect the financial assets of the church. Flynn later claimed to have healed the Diocese of Lafayette. He became a legendary figure: the first “healer bishop” in the Catholic Church.

Flynn’s work in Louisiana led to a promotion. In 1994, he arrived in Minnesota to serve as the new archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He continued a cover-up that had been created by Roach, his predecessor. An aggressive attorney tried to expose the deception, but at every turn church leaders responded with renewed promises and seemingly new policies.

The cover-up went far beyond Louisiana and Minnesota. In 2002, bishops leveraged Flynn’s credibility to help save the U.S. Catholic Church from the worst scandal in its history after the Boston Globe published revelations that church leaders had covered up abuse. Backed by myths about his time in Louisiana, Flynn assured the faithful once again: We will protect your children…. When Archbishop John Nienstedt arrived in St. Paul in 2007, he repeated that promise….

The deception was finally uncovered when a 33-year-old woman was put in charge of managing a locked room filled with documents. Canon lawyer Jennifer Haselberger found hundreds of documents revealing that top church officials had covered up abuse for decades. Most alarmingly, the cover-up continued to the present day [2014].

Haselberger warned Nienstedt that children were in danger. He dismissed her concerns. Finally, in April 2013, Haselberger resigned. Three months later, she called MPR News to disclose the church’s secrets.

Betrayed by Silence: An MPR News Investigation. “For decades, leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been reassigning, excusing and overlooking sexually abusive priests among their ranks. Some received additional retirement benefits. In August [2013], a top church lawyer, shocked at what she saw, brought the story to MPR News. What happened next is still unfolding [2015]. See, in particular, Betrayed by Silence: The investigation in four chapters, 21 July 2014.

Update: Mark S. Getzfred and Mitch Smith, Catholic Archbishop and Aide Resign in Minnesota Over Sexual Abuse Scandal. The New York Times, 15 June 2015. “The Roman Catholic archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis and a deputy bishop resigned on Monday after prosecutors recently charged the archdiocese with having failed to protect youths from abuse by pedophile priests.

In statements released Monday morning, the archbishop, John C. Nienstedt, and an auxiliary bishop, Lee A. Piché, said they were resigning to help the archdiocese heal.”