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Our view: Archbishop's successor must learn lessons of abuse scandal

Twenty-one years ago last week, the Rev. Harry Flynn, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., was named coadjutor bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, La. It was a promotion but also a challenge; as the chief assistant and successor-designat...

Twenty-one years ago last week, the Rev. Harry Flynn, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., was named coadjutor bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, La. It was a promotion but also a challenge; as the chief assistant and successor-designate to Bishop Gerald Frey, Flynn faced a sexual abuse scandal revolving around the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, a priest who admitted molesting dozens of young children, costing the church millions in settlements.

Widely credited with cleaning up Frey's mess, Flynn succeeded him in 1989. Five years later he was again tapped by Rome as an coadjutor, as archbishop-in-waiting to Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Flynn again faced sexual abuse scandals neglected by his predecessor, whom he succeeded in 1995.

A decade later, when the scandal erupted in Boston and around the country, Flynn played a crucial role as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Sexual Abuse. This time, it wouldn't be as easy, with Flynn himself calling the crisis "the most serious pastoral challenge in our history," and victims groups castigating him for responding with policies and procedures rather than compassion to those irreparably harmed by men of God.

Now, Archbishop Flynn has his own coadjutor, with the announcement yesterday that the Vatican had picked a fellow Minnesotan bishop, John Nienstedt of the Diocese of New Ulm, as Flynn's successor-to-be. Is it to address failings by Flynn?

No; if one can somehow put the effects of the abuse scandal aside, the archdiocese is in fairly good shape, and the idea is for Nienstedt to learn the ropes before Flynn reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75 next year.

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But perhaps Flynn can use the time to impart to his protégé the shame and horror he encountered in Louisiana, as well as whatever actions he did or didn't take nationally, to make sure the crimes never happen again.

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