Just down the hall from where a group of local Cub Scouts were meeting, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn conducted a listening and healing session Monday night at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Forest Lake regarding the issue of priest abusers.
As reports of pedophilia swept through the Catholic ministry earlier this year, it was revealed four former St. Peter’s ministers have been accused of sexual abuse.
Former ministers Joseph Heitzer, Robert Zasacki, Jerome Kerns and Lee Krautkremer have been tied to alleged abuse.
It was the second such listening session at the church in the past four months. More than 100 individuals attended Monday’s session to hear from Archbishop Flynn, who was chair of the Bishop’s Committee that prepared the agenda for the summer meeting of the American Bishops in Dallas, TX, to address the sexual abuse issue.
After opening the session with prayer, Father Robert Sipe of St. Peter’s turned the meeting over to Archbishop Flynn, who immediately began fielding questions from the audience.
For nearly 90 minutes Archbishop Flynn did his best to answer questions, show his own frustration, offer apologizes and mix in some laughter.
Most of the evening, however, was far from light-hearted as several members of the audience became emotional in asking hard-hitting questions.
Archbishop Flynn, who left Wednesday of this week for Rome, started by saying one of the first orders of business for the Catholic Church will be to come to a clear definition of what is sexual abuse and what is a boundary issue.
Archbishop Flynn went on to say the past eight months have been the, most painful in my whole priesthood.
But, he added, we’ve come a long way and we’re in a good space now.
When asked how decisions to move accused abusers from parish to parish could be allowed to happen, Archbishop Flynn could not give an explanation.
I stand with you in not understanding how that can happen, he said.
When asked why there has yet to be substantial punishment for those accused of abuse, Archbishop Flynn said such action, probably will be coming.
As members of the audience pleaded for a significant admission of wrong-doing, Archbishop Flynn cautioned those at the session that the church is in the business of forgiving, and that you can’t take a person out and shoot them.
At that point, Craig Martin, a 1974 graduate of Forest Lake High School, stood and commended Archbishop Flynn for having the courage to face the crowd and deal with the issues at hand.
Martin, now of St. Cloud, was one of four victims of sexual abuse by a priest who spoke to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas.
Martin was 11 when he was the victim of alleged abuse in 1968 by Heitzer in a motel while on a fishing trip. Heitzer, who served as an associate pastor at St. Peter’s on a full-time basis for a short time, has been deceased for many years.
Martin urged Archbishop Flynn to be sure to help priests as well.
We need to help the priest find a safe place, an emotional Martin said. I don’t want them to wear a collar and I wouldn’t want them around any of my children, but I would want them to be looked after and want them to be healed.
After Archbishop Flynn spoke to Martin’s concerns, he also addressed the question of where money used to settle lawsuits has come from.
He said, a great deal, of the money comes from insurance policies. He later added an estimate of more than 90 percent of the money comes from insurance policies, but also added that the insurance policies are becoming more restrictive.
Archbishop Flynn then heard from a second local man who was the victim of alleged abuse involving a local priest.
Ted Krammer of Columbus Township had several questions for Archbishop Flynn. Why couldn’t the Catholic Church simply adhere to common law when determining what sexual abuse is, he asked
He also questioned why the archdiocese would not support legislation to expand the statute of limitations on abuse cases such as his own and expressed his belief the archdiocese is responsible for the actions of its priests.
Krammer later ended the session by thanking everyone for the support he has received since filing his lawsuit against the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Krautkremer in July.
Krammer alleges he was molested in 1977 when he was a 10-year-old alter boy at St. Peter’s. He says he was abused on a weekend trip to Krautkremer’s cabin in Wisconsin. Krautkremer served at St. Peter’s from 1976-79.
Krammer also encouraged members of St. Peter’s to welcome any individuals who come forward in the future with allegations with the same open arms which were extended to him.
The evening ended with an impromptu prayer and healing session with those in attendance all holding hands.