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Robert W. Finn, Will You Please Go Now?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The well-connected conservative culture warrior, Robert W. Finn, still leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri more than three months after being convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.  This has led to a growing unease inside and outside of the Church that the problems that led to shocking child sex abuse scandals and high level coverups, are far from over.

The New York Times recently reported:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the three months since Bishop Robert W. Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest, lay people and victims’ advocates have repeatedly called for his resignation.

Now, recent interviews and a private survey by a company working for the Roman Catholic diocese here show for the first time that a significant number of the bishop’s own priests have lost confidence in him.

But of course Finn still has his defenders, including one conservative priest who said, “Yes, there is a divide in the presbyterate, but in my opinion it’s the same old tired divide that has existed from the day he arrived.” He added, “In a word, some of the priests wish that we had a more liberal bishop, and they are willing to use any means to achieve that end.”

And then of course, there is the ever-full-of-bluster, Catholic League president, William Donohue.

Donohue, never one to let the facts get in the way of defending the indefensible, recently responded to the Times article. In a December 3, 2012 op-ed in the Albany Tribune, entitled, “Bishop Finn and the Catholic Left,” he dissembled once again, trying to frame the issue as solely one of a battle between conservative and liberal Catholics:

The Times says that Finn’s conviction of a misdemeanor “stemmed from his failure to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan to the authorities after hundreds of pornographic pictures that Father Ratigan had taken of young girls were discovered on his laptop in December 2010.”

That statement is factually wrong. On October 15, 2011 the Times mentioned there was “a single photo of a young girl, nude from the waist down,” and “hundreds of photographs of children” showing “upskirt images and images focused on the crotch.”

Continuing directly, he made this incredible statement:

Now anyone who takes such pictures is clearly disturbed. But it also needs to be said that crotch shots are not pornographic. Moreover, the diocese described the “single photo” of a naked girl to a police officer who served on the diocesan sexual review board, and he said it did not constitute pornography. So why would the Times say that “hundreds of pornographic pictures” were found two years ago this month? The record shows that it was not until after the diocese called the cops in May 2011 that porn pictures were found on Ratigan’s computer.

He concluded by claiming, “In short, Bishop Finn deserves better. The attack on him, coming exclusively from the Catholic Left, smacks of an agenda.”

This is nonsense. Writing for The Religion News Service on December 4, 2012 Mark Silk pointed out that in fact, the picture was indeed defined as “pornography” in a report prepared for the diocese.

Silk added:

That’s not just pornography, Bill, it’s the kind of child abuse that is supposed to get a priest reported to the civil authorities. How do I know this? It’s right there in the USCCB’s Rome-approved “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which mandates compliance with civil reporting statutes for the “grave delict” of “the acquisition, possession, or distribution by a cleric of pornographic images of minors under the age of fourteen, for purposes of sexual gratification, by whatever means or using any technology.”

Donohue’s argument about “the Catholic Left” also holds no water. There are conservative Opus Dei bishops leading the dioceses of Brooklyn-Queens and Newark. Another very conservative bishop presides over the Archdiocese of Los Angeles while Catholic Right culture warrior Archbishop Chaput presides in Philadelphia. In none of these locales is there any such call for resignation as there is in Kansas City. Why?  Because the issue is one that should transcend politics: child abuse.

On the same day as Donohue’s piece, Michael Sean Winters in the National Catholic Reporter put it best:

Today is December 3. On September 6, Bishop Robert Finn was convicted in civil court of failing to report an instance of child sexual abuse. Not only is Finn now serving a suspended sentence, he is in violation of the Dallas Charter the bishops adopted ten years ago to confront the sex abuse crisis. Three months. Bishop Finn is still the Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The Vatican is said to want the American bishops to exert fraternal correction and get Finn to step down. The US bishops are said to be waiting for the Vatican to move. Enough already. Someone do something.

There does indeed however, appear to be a political angle at play in this whole sad episode. But Donohue doth protest too much.  If there is a political impulse affecting Finn’s status, it is coming from the neoconservative Catholic Right, not the Catholic Left — beginning with Bill Donohue!

Finn’s stepping down would, perhaps coincidentally, remove a high-profile conservative voice from a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Kansas City is also a center for  Post-Keynesian economics (antithetical to neocon Catholics) particularly among the faculty at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). The school also serves as home base for the Keynesian-based Center for Full Employment and Price Stability as well as Savings and Loan regulator and Roosevelt Institute fellow, Bill Black who serves as an associate professor of economics.  And as I have previously pointed out, Finn is  one of a number of outspokenly conservative prelates in liberal locales.

In any case, “If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese,” I previously wrote, “the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.” And as the recent New York Times story reminds us, “Only the pope can remove a bishop from office.”

Bishop Finn Found Guilty of Failure to Report Suspected Child Sex Abuse

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On Thursday, September 6th, Robert Finn, the bishop who heads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri was convicted by a Jackson County court of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.

There is no word yet on whether Bishop Finn will be deemed fit to continue to lead the Catholic Church in Kansas City.

Bishop Finn’s conviction stems from the  prosecution of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who has since pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography.

The National Catholic Reporter broke down the conviction as follows:

Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge John Torrence gave Finn a two-year suspended sentence of probation with nine conditions, including mandating direct reporting of future suspicions of child abuse to prosecutors.

Prosecutors had separated the charges against Finn and the diocese into two timeframes: Dec. 16, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011; and Feb. 11, 2011, to May 18, 2011.

Handing down his verdict less than an hour after the trial started, Torrence said he did not have enough evidence to convict Finn during the first timeframe, but evidence “exceeds that which would be necessary” to prove that the bishop “knowingly failed to report” possible abuse during the second.

On that charge, Torrence continued, “the defendant is guilty.”

Following Finn’s verdict, prosecutors asked Torrence to dismiss the charges against the diocese. While the prosecutors’ motion effectively means the charges have been dropped, Torrence said he would not be able to enter a judgment on the matter until Friday morning.

Finn avoided similar charges in nearby Clay County, Missouri by agreeing to government oversight of all pedophilia investigations for the next five years.

The Questions Now Raised

Throughout the proceedings the controversial Opus Dei prelate and Father Ratigan have been receiving legal help from the ultra-conservative, Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), an organization with strong ties to Opus Dei member Thomas Monaghan, William Donohue and several prominent Catholic neocons.

As I have previously noted this conviction could remove a high-profile social conservative voice in a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Will Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop presiding over a diocese convicted of a crime, be removed from office?  If so, will he also be defrocked?

And what of Cardinal Dolan, Bill Donohue and their band of Catholic Right culture warriors who used this case to discourage transparency and accountability waging a scorched earth strategy against SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests as well as against the victimized children?  Will they be disciplined by the Vatican for their behavior?

Incredibly — but not surprisingly — Donohue and the Catholic League have taken a defiant tone, one that resorts to a despicable distortion of the facts. Here is a sample from Donohue’s September 7, 2012 press release:

Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuse-no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.

The only one spinning “myths” here is Donohue. While Donohue is correct that Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanor instead of a felony is of little consequence. Either way Finn’s criminality is only a matter of degree.  To attempt to diminish the harm Ratigan had on the children and their families is outrageous. And then to claim, “no child was ever abused” is false, and suggests that Donohue’s sympathies are entirely with the perpetrator and enabler of these crimes against children and that he has also forgotten the profound betrayal of their responsibilities as priests.

Donohue then shifts from his sympathy for the pedophiles to a preposterous condemnation of the prosecution of these crimes.

The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.

Children’s private parts were targeted in Ratigan’s photographs and Donohue claims that Bishop Finn is the victim? Such a declaration cries out for the Church to censure this contemptible man who claims to speak for American Catholics. To understand just how off-base Donohue’s defense is, consider this description of Ratigan’s behavior by The New York Times:

In May 2010, the principal of the Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan was working sent a memo to the diocese raising alarm about the priest. The letter said that he had put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house. Bishop Finn has said he did not read the letter until a year later.
The prosecutor said the photographs discovered on Father Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 were “alarming photos,” among them a series taken on a playground in which the photographer moves in closer until the final shots show girls’ genitalia through their clothing. Confronted with the photographs, Father Ratigan tried to commit suicide, but survived and was briefly hospitalized.

If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.

Bishop Finn Indicted

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Robert Finn, the controversial Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, has been indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse.

This is the first time a head of a diocese has ever been charged with a crime for failing to report pedophile behavior on the part of one of his subordinate priests.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn, previously best known for his Opus Dei vision of the Church and society, had constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Father Shawn Ratigan (who has since been charged with the latter crime). And as I wrote in my last piece: It is not only time for Bishop Finn to go; it is time for him to go jail.

Missouri State Law makes it a misdemeanor crime not to report such behavior.

The Kansas City Star broke the news of the indictment:

A Jackson County grand jury has indicted Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse.

The charges, announced at a news conference today, make Finn – leader of the 134,000-member diocese – the highest-ranking Catholic official in the nation to face criminal prosecution in a child sexual abuse case.

The charges stemmed from the long-simmering controversy surrounding Father Shawn Ratigan, who is facing child pornography charges in Clay County and federal court.

“This is a significant charge,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “To my knowledge, a charge like this has not been leveled before.

Both Finn and the diocese entered pleas of not guilty. If convicted, Finn faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine; the diocese only faces a fine of $5,000.

The indictment’s graphic description of the photographs of children Ratigan had on his computer is disturbing. But even more disturbing is the allegation that Bishop Finn sat on the evidence for over five months. If the charge is proven in court, then Finn should be given the maximum penalties.

An indictment of a prelate was bound to happen. The Church’s reactions to calls by members to fix the problem of pedophile priests, have too often ranged from disinterest to cover-up. Now that Jackson County has broken the ice, indictments from other jurisdictions may follow. A Grand Jury in Clay County, MO for one is considering similar charges.

Maybe the Church will hear us now.

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