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What Is Truly At Stake In Kansas City-St. Joseph?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The saga of Bishop Robert Finn, (the outspoken Opus Dei prelate who is in hot water over his alleged failure to report to police, evidence of a pedophile priest under his diocesan authority) continues — as does consideration of the fallout of his criminal indictment.   A faction of the Catholic Right that intersects Opus Dei, the Catholic League and the neoconservative movement has risen to the bishop’s defense, suggesting that the Catholic Right believes they have more at stake than the legal or institutional fate of one negligent bishop.

Why would Catholic Right neoconservatives defend the indefensible? Of all the fights to pick, it seems odd that the likes of Bill Donohue’s Catholic League, members of Opus Dei and Opus Bono Sacerdotii would defend a bishop – even an Opus Dei bishop – where the indictment presents such an extremely difficult case to refute. As I  previously reported Finn has been indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse and has cut a deal with prosecutors in nearby Clay County in order to avoid similar charges.

But his defenders’ concern may not be so much protecting Bishop Finn from what they say are false claims against him, but retaining this and other Opus Dei bishops’ hold on power.  To understand why they would pick this dubious battle, it is important to first understand the locale and then what has taken place in other pockets of progressivism.

Kansas City, Missouri is a bastion of Mid-West liberalism and until Finn’s arrival several years ago, the Catholic diocese was known as beacon of Catholic economic and social justice thought and action. But as I reported in 2006, Finn soon put the diocese on a culture war footing:

Finn’s personal political views have also come to predominate various diocesan decisions and pronouncements. Biological issues now take precedence over long-standing concerns such as distributive justice. As Dennis Coday reported in the National Catholic Reporter, A Respect Life Office was established to handle pro-life issues and battle stem-cell research. The effect of this decision was immediately felt in the recent battle over the Missouri’s Amendment 2 stem cell ballot initiative which narrowly prevailed on November 7, 2006.

In his march backwards he has elevated the role of The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This society of priests celebrates Mass in Latin exclusively in its traditional as promulgated before the Vatican II aggiornomento reforms. The Institute has as its stated aim the defense and propagation of Magisterium in all areas of human life, both private and social. Such an attitude is a clear rebuke to Vatican II’s reform doctrine as defined in Dignitatis Humanae which declared that while the Church still viewed itself as the vessel of “the truth,” it wisely concluded that individuals must be free to seek the truth without coercion.

Kansas City is also a center for several ideals that are antithetical to neocon Catholics, particularly, Post- Keynesian economics, having a significant presence among the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC) faculty. 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.

As I explained in an earlier post, Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi, the current head of the Vatican Bank is virulently anti-Keynesian in his economic philosophy.  Gotti-Tedeschi, a former professor of financial ethics at the Catholic University of Milan, attributes the world recession to declining birth rates and opposes labor unions.  He is also reportedly a member of Opus Dei.

Leading neocons Michael Novak, George Weigel and Robert P. George populate the Catholic League Board of Advisors. Novak is well-known for his tomes trumpeting laissez-fare economics; ditto for Weigel, while George has been as of late, campaigning for a return to the gold standard.  And then there is Fr. Michael Orsi, the outspoken Advisor of Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), the Detroit-based organization (and Thomas Monaghan-funded) organization that “evaluated” the priest at the center of the whole affair, Fr. Shawn Ratigan.  (It was OBS’s in-house psychiatrist who claimed Ratigan was not a pedophile but “lonely and depressed”).

Orsi is a Catholic Right culture warrior par execellence.  He is a contributing writer to The American Spectator. In an article for Human Events he criticized the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for declaring that health care is a right.  And he again criticized the USCCB for implementing their zero-tolerance policy for pedophile clergy.  His take on the matter gives the impression that he is more concerned with preserving conservative authority than protecting children from predators. Indeed, he pontificating much about protecting priests. But protecting children? Not so much.

Bishop Finn’s appointment in Kansas City-St. Joseph appears to be part of a pattern in which the Vatican has placed vehement Catholic Right culture warriors in diocese serving liberal American cities.  The appointment of  Bishop Robert Morlino in Madison, Wisconsin is another excellent example. While municipal servants were recently fighting a conservative governor to keep their right to collectively bargain, Morlino did his best to pour cold water on Catholic support for the workers.  Madison is also the home to important embryonic stem cell research.

Likewise, Archbishop Joseph Chaput‘s appointment in Philadelphia and Archbishop Timothy Dolan in New York. To the east of Dolan sits bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in Brooklyn and to his west, Bishop John J. Myers in Newark – both Opus Dei members.  Other recent Opus Dei appointments include Archbishop Jose H. Gomez in Los Angeles, and Bishop John O. Barres in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Losing Finn as a bishop would be a setback for the movement of ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservative voices in positions of authority in the Church. Indeed it would be a blow to one of the Catholic Right’s most powerful tools, pure servile fear; the fear that does not derive from respect but from retribution. But if public pressure forces the Church as well as the state to act against Finn, it would be a victory for mainstream Catholics and to all citizens, who expect the law to be equally applied in protecting people from criminal predators. And that would be a blow to their vision of a Church that seeks to define not only what the law will be for others, but to stand above and apart from it themselves.

For Catholic conservatives who value authority over the protection of children, and rightist political and economic orthodoxy over the historic social justice teachings of the Church, this is a battle of historic consequence.

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