Matt Flynn aggressively refuted accusations that he played a role in covering up sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee's attorney during a 45-minute call with reporters on Monday. He also railed against a culture of "elites" that he said has "pickled" the Democratic Party in identity politics.
Flynn has been dogged by criticism and calls from several women's groups and two Democratic legislators to drop out of the Democratic primary for governor based on his work representing the church from 1989-2004 as an attorney with the Milwaukee-based firm Quarles & Brady. A group of 23 Wisconsin lawyers recently wrote a letter defending Flynn for representing his client as an attorney.
His campaign released a letter on Sunday from former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, who led the archdiocese from 1977 to 2002, asserting that Flynn bore no responsibility for the transfers of priests who were accused of sexual abuse.
Flynn said he does not know when the last priest was reassigned, but said he did not advise any transfers. He said he insisted the church go to police "on any allegation."
In the letter, Weakland laid out the church's initial procedure to handle priests accused of pedophilia. According to Weakland, the priests were sent to therapists for treatment, and if a priest was deemed by a therapist to be at a low risk to reoffend, the church would find a new placement for the priest. Members of the pastoral council of the new parish would be alerted, and the priest would be allowed "no ministry to youth."
"The ultimate determination was made by the Archbishop. The lawyers were not involved," Weakland wrote. "Looking back, I would have to admit that we were all extremely naive. We did not understand the power of recidivism in such cases."
Weakland admitted in a 1993 deposition that he shredded documents related to sexual abuse reports and who retired in 2002 after acknowledging he authorized a $450,000 settlement with a man who accused him of sexual abuse. Weakland denied that any abuse took place, but revealed that he was gay and the two had a relationship in his 2009 memoir.
In a statement released Monday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee excoriated Weakland for his handling of the abuse scandal and called on Flynn to end his campaign.
"No one has made the absurd claim that Flynn actually signed any transfer order of a priest. He couldn't. What the files clearly show is that he knew about and was involved in the transfer practice, advised Weakland about priests before and after transfers, and routinely met with some of the worst pedophile priests of the archdiocese without reporting them to law enforcement or warning parishes," said Father Domenic Roscioli of Franklin.
Roscioli said his 94-year-old mother, Angelina, was raped by a priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee as a young girl.
"To this day, pictures of priests with a known history of sexual abuse of children adorn the walls and hallways of Catholic parishes in Milwaukee. Oswald Krusing, the priest who raped and sexually assaulted my mother, has his picture displayed at St. Gregory the Great Church in Milwaukee," Roscioli said in a statement.
Flynn emphatically defended Weakland as an honest, trustworthy source, and declined to comment on the $450,000 settlement or any related issues.
Flynn also categorically denied claims made by a since-defrocked priest that Flynn had advised the priest and told him "not to worry" about an accusation of abuse. The Republican Party of Wisconsin circulated the letter on Monday, written in 2003 by former Milwaukee priest Marvin Knighton to Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
In the letter, Knighton said he had approached Flynn in 1993 to let him know an accusation had been made against him. Knighton wrote that Flynn had advised him to wait and see if a formal complaint was made. According to Knighton, during a second meeting, Flynn told him not to worry about it. Knighton said he asked Flynn to meet with his accuser.
"Mr. Flynn told me that it would be too much of a hassle to do anything legally and most likely nothing would happen," Knighton wrote.
Flynn dismissed Knighton's letter as "baloney," noting that it was written 10 years after the meetings it described.
Flynn said he remembered Knighton approaching him and said he treated him as he did any other priest, by letting him know he represented the Archdiocese and anything he said could end up harming his case. Flynn said Knighton was a "bad guy."
The Archdiocese placed Knighton under restrictions in 2002 after two reports of sexual abuse were submitted to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office. Knighton was charged with one count of second degree sexual assault of a child and acquitted by a jury the following year. He was dismissed from the church in 2011 following a canonical trial and several appeals during which he was found guilty by church authorities.
On Monday, Flynn said journalists reporting on his work as an attorney and the calls to get out of the race are misinterpreting the facts, in part because many of them have not attended law school. He dismissed Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, who did attend law school, as lacking the legal experience to properly interpret the documents on which she based her call for him to exit the race. Taylor was joined by Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, who is not a lawyer.
He characterized Taylor and Sargent as members of the political elite who are trying to exert undue influence on the gubernatorial primary process. As governor, he said, he would remove all elites from power, regardless of their political party.
Flynn, who has loaned himself $140,000 for his gubernatorial campaign, argued that he is not elite himself, noting that he attended college on a scholarship and worked hard to make the money he has.
"Anybody who works as hard as I do and makes money, great, and if they don’t make money, that’s some bad breaks, so what? I’m not apologizing for my money. I made my money," Flynn said.
Flynn added that people who are struggling financially due to racism and discrimination would see an end to that if he is elected, and said he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"I'm tired of people complaining and moaning that they don't have a lot of money," Flynn said, adding that he was referring to elites, not people making the minimum wage.
Elites are making the gubernatorial race a "victimology seminar," he said.
"We have three weeks to the primary. I’m not going to apologize for being a good lawyer," Flynn said. "When I was in the Navy, I defended my country. When I was a lawyer, I defended my clients. When I'm governor, I'll defend you."
Flynn, 70, has been involved in Democratic politics in Wisconsin for four decades. Now a retired commercial litigation partner with the Milwaukee firm Quarles & Brady, Flynn served as chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from 1981 to 1985. Before attending law school, Flynn served in the Navy. He mounted several unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, co-chaired John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign in Wisconsin and served on Hillary Clinton's finance committee during her 2008 presidential campaign. He is one of eight Democrats running for governor.