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It Must Be Exhausting to Be Bill Donohue

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue

The 2013 film “Philomena” tells the moving story of an Irish woman who had an out of wedlock son in the early 1950s.  The nuns with whom she was sent to live sent her son to America for adoption. The film is at once the story of Philomena Lee’s search for her child – and a lesson in Christ-like forgiveness as well as of enduring Catholic faith.

So, who would find such a story to be anti-Catholic? Why Bill Donohue, of course!

(Spoiler alert below.)

Before we get to Bill Donohue, let’s say a bit more about the film.

Recently my wife and I saw Philomena a film inspired by the heartfelt story of the real life Philomena Lee, who was a single Irish teenage girl who got pregnant in the early 1950s, and as was too often the case at that time, banished by her family to live a very stern existence in a convent. She worked seven days a week in the now notorious Magdalena laundry (which was viewed as “penance”).

Philomena gave birth to a son, Anthony, while living at the convent. Working grueling hours, she was only allowed to see Anthony one hour a day. Young Anthony was soon adopted and taken to live in the United States. She wasn’t even given an opportunity to say goodbye to her child, leaving her devastated.

Most of the story is seen through flashback. Fifty years later Philomena – who remained a deeply religious Catholic — wants to know became of her son. After a couple glasses of wine one night she finally tells her daughter about her older half-brother. Through her, Philomena convinces a former BBC reporter, Martin Sixsmith — a very lapsed Catholic turned atheist — to write a book about her experience and help her find her son. Their journey takes them back to the convent where it all began. There, the nuns tell her that they cannot help her – which is, as the film later shows, a complete mendacity.

The film’s next segment is a trip to America (not based on actual events) where the two learn that her son grew up in Chicago, became a successful attorney and went on to work in the White House of George H. W. Bush.  She also learns that her son was gay and died of AIDS in 1995.

But his death is not only unsettling news. Contrary to what Lee and Sixsmith were told when they first visited the convent, Philomena’s son not only also came there looking for his birth mother but was actually buried on its premises.

Throughout the film there is a tension about faith and forgiveness. Sixsmith has become increasingly bitter towards the church (when Philomena is looking for a church where she could go to confession, he tells her, “The Catholic Church should go to confession, not you!”). The title character, however, takes a different path. She is able to separate the hierarchy from the body of the Church – the rank and file engaging in belief.

Which brings us to Bill Donohue who cannot help but attack the film in ways that range from petty to vicious.

In a press release, for example, the Catholic League president labeled the film “bunk” and “propaganda.” In an op-ed he attempted to paint the entire project as a giant falsehood by noting, “The film and the book also maintain that Philomena went to the United States to find her son, but this is patently untrue: she never set foot in America looking for him.” But even as Donohue is well aware, the film never claims to be a non-fiction account. Indeed, the film prominently acknowledges that the story was “inspired by actual events.”

During the Oscar season he issued a further attack on the film. In it, he commented on how Philomena revealed her secret over a few drinks on Christmas 2004. He then falsely suggests that she had sworn herself to secrecy and that excessive amounts of alcohol was the real culprit.

This is not to say there was no secrecy. However, it was Philomena, not the nuns, who were tight lipped: she swore herself to secrecy, never telling her children what happened when she was a teenager. Alcohol changed that.

He then tries to blame it all on atheism:

[Martin] Sixsmith does not say whether Philomena was also bombed when they met,  though he said it was at a New Year’s party that same year. Lucky for her, she found an atheist willing to buy her tale.

Donohue goes on to raise other issues – many of them (such as disputing how the young women were treated in the laundries) – are easily refuted including by the Irish government. But he avoids the film’s main criticism: the convent’s false pleas of ignorance in response to a dying son and a searching mother looking for each other. Bill’s angry bluster over how both the hierarchy and the Church as an institution are portrayed almost seem to be an intended distraction from the film’s central question: what justifies separating a mother and child from each other? That is a question Donohue will not even attempt to answer.

Philomena and Sixsmith confront Sister Hildegarde near the end of the film (A juncture where the film takes license order to inject Philomena’s final judgment of her actions; the actual nun in question passed away in 1995). She is unrepentant for having given away Philomena’s son fifty years before — arguing that Philomena and the other mothers’ penance for their sins was the loss of their children. When Philomena nevertheless forgives the bitter old nun — an incredulous Sixsmith protests.  “But I don’t wanna hate people,” Philomena explains. “I don’t wanna be like you. Look at you.”  And when he responds by saying that he’s angry, she mutters. “Must be exhausting.”

Catholic means “universal” or “all encompassing.” But the priorities and interests of Donohue’s “Catholic League” are far from universal. As I’ve written time and time again, Donohue and friends seek to advance a specific cultural and political agenda. Culturally, he speaks for the highly conservative portion of the hierarchy that has no use for flexibility, transparency and accountability. The body of the Catholic Church is not just the hierarchy or a certain group of nuns; it is the entire church mostly made up of people such as Philomena Lee.

Politically, Donohue is a “top-down” person. He has deep ties to movement conservatism – including being an adjunct scholar with the Heritage Foundation. The Catholic League’s Board of Advisers reads as a neoconservative Who’s Who list). More often than not, Donohue’s Catholicism dovetails nicely with secular political considerations of the Right (this was recently on full display when Donohue recently described Pope Francis’s economics as a form of Marxism).

Bill Donohue will angrily scowl, brow-beat and even resort to hateful language in pursuit of his goals. His method is on vivid display in his war on Philomena.

It must be exhausting to be Bill Donohue.

William Donohue: Will You Please Go Now?

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, achieved the seemingly impossible in a recent interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo — a new low.

Like every other Catholic of any prominence, Donohue was asked about his views on the surprising comments by Pope Francis regarding LGTB Catholics. When the conversation turned to the ongoing priestly pedophilia scandal, he not only failed to embrace the new spirit emanating from the throne of St. Peter — he continued to attack gay people and as is his wont, he blamed the sex abuses committed by priests on the victims.

“I always tells the truth”, he declared, while badly mischaracterizing the findings of a recent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (the 2004 report commissioned by The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; as for the press release put out by John Jay, it concluded, “that there was no single cause or predictor of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.”). Karen Terry, PhD., the principal investigator concluded that neither celibacy nor homosexuality were causes of abuse. But Donohue told Cuomo that because many of the victims involved were teenagers, “It’s not a pedophilia… most of the victims were post-pubescent… .” Apparently, Donohue thinks that the criminal sexual violation of teenagers is ok.

Cuomo, to his credit, did expose many of Donohue’s past hypocrisies. Unfortunately, they did not discuss Donohue’s role in the Ratigan-Finn debacle in the Diocese of Kansas City St. Joseph Missouri. Fr. Shawn Ratigan pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of the attempted production of child pornography. His Bishop, Robert Finn, was convicted by a Jackson County court of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. But while Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison Finn (a darling of Opus Dei) still sits as bishop in the era of “zero tolerance.”

Donohue’s defense of these convicted criminals is a vile spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of Donohue’s more egregious howlers in this interview.

Donohue complains at the 2:58 minute mark, that the bishops mishandled the scandal by sending the sexual predators to see psychologists instead of throwing them in jail. What actually happened is that Donohue and the Catholic League sought to thwart the prosecution of Ratigan while running interference for his immediate superior, Bishop Finn. What’s more, one of the groups working in consort with the Catholic League was Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), (an organization which has ties to Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan) which had shuffled Ratigan off to see psychologists who declared that he was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression. I pointed out at the time that Donohue is pictured on the OBS homepage next to a link to his piece, “Straight Talk about the Catholic Church and SNAP Exposed.”

But Donohue’s straight talk did not include seeking to get the truth about the Finn-Ratigan affair to the world. For example, Donohue issued a press release in September 2012 which stated, “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.” However, as the New York Times reported at the time:

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.

This is what William Donohue has claimed “did not involve child sexual abuse” and did not “involve child pornography.”

While we await some actual straight talk from William Donohue, let’s be aware that one of his standard tactics is attempting to shift the focus of the problem. In effect, changing the subject. For example, in the Cuomo interview he claimed that “78% of the victims are post-pubescent” and “the word in the English language [describing this behavior] is not pedophilia, it’s called homosexuality.” Such a statement, however, is nothing more than a ruse. It is a transparent attempt to shift the blame from the offending priest to the victim by esoterically suggesting possible seduction on the latter’s part.

Not only did Donohue incorrectly equate sexual orientation with the legal age of sexual consent while simultaneously discounting the coercive power of a predatory adult, the John Jay Report does not show what he claims it shows. In fact, at page 10 it shows the opposite:

“Most sexual abuse victims of priests (51 percent) were between the ages of eleven and fourteen, while 27 percent were fourteen to seventeen, 16 percent were eight to ten, and nearly 6 percent were under age seven.”

Again, by Donohue’s definitions, apparently puberty is the line at which coercive sex by priests becomes consensual.

It is incomprehensible to me and to many other Catholics that this man leads any organization that calls itself Catholic. It is even more incomprehensible that he works closely with the American Catholic hierarchy — especially Cardinal Dolan of New York. This episode makes it clear that the most vulnerable among us are expendable if they get in the way of William Donohue and his cronies.

Donohue is the embodiment of the culture-war politics the new pope has disavowed. I recently wrote that Pope Francis must fire — and not only because he is the only one who can. I think it is essential for the credibility of his effort to reform the Church. But I’d like to amend my comments to say that just as the bishop who sat on evidence of child-abuse needs to go, those who sought to impede justice need to go as well. And that includes William Donohue.

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.”

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.

The Catholic Right Lines Up Against the Least

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Bishop Robert Finn has many powerful friends on the Catholic Right.  As a hard charging leader of what he has called “the church militant” and one of four American Opus Dei bishops, Finn is clearly one of their own.  Nevertheless, it extraordinary that his allies have chosen to side with an element in the institutional church obsessed with unquestioned authority and against Catholic children and their families.

While Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is ubiquitous, he is not the only one rallying to defend Finn’s handling of alleged child abuser Fr. Shawn Ratigan. It is time to throw open the shutters and allow some daylight into the shadows and dark corners of Catholic neoconservatism.  

The Catholic League

While Bill Donohue and the Catholic League need no introduction, it is worth a quick review of their key members and advisers who share responsibility for the League’s  support for Finn.

Among the League’s Board of Directors is Raymond Arroyo of Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) who is reputed to be either an Opus Dei member or cooperator (but who in any case has certainly vigorously defended the controversial group). Also on the board is Candace de Russy, an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute, a neocon think tank that features Lewis “Scooter” Libby (of Valerie Plame fame) as a Senior Vice President.  The League’s Board of Advisers is populated by such leading neocons as Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George, Michael Novak and George Weigel, who has sanitized past Vatican failures regarding pedophile clergy and recently declared his scorn for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Thomas Monaghan

Another Catholic League adviser is Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, who in many ways is the key to Donohue’s activities in Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Monaghan has, over the years, advanced the twin agendas of laissez-faire economics and ultra-orthodox Catholicism with money and political muscle.  He has helped to fund Operation Rescue and Fr. Frank Pavone’s Priests for Life as well as Legatus, the ultra-conservative millionaires-only club he founded. And according to Forbes, he has reportedly done the same for Opus Dei.

Monaghan is also involved with another Finn defender, Opus Bono Sacerdotii.

Opus Bono Sacerdotii

The Kansas City Star recently reported that the Fr. Ratigan, the alleged pedophile priest, had received a psychiatric evaluation at Bishop Finn’s behest. But there are questions about the psychiatrist’s impartiality as well as his diagnosis.  The Star pointed out:

Richard Fitzgibbons, who examined Ratigan in January after disturbing photographs of children were found on the priest’s computer, is an adviser to Opus Bono Sacerdotii, according to the group’s website. The nonprofit organization provides services to accused and imprisoned priests, including financial, legal and emotional support.

After his evaluation, Fitzgibbons told Finn that Ratigan was not a pedophile and that his pornography problem was a result of loneliness and depression, according to a report commissioned by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.

(Note that Fitzgibbons’s diagnosis was “loneliness and depression” not pedophilia.)

Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS) describes, its mission:

Opus Bono Sacerdotii (Work for the Good of the Priesthood) was founded in response to many sensitive situations with priests requesting confidential assistance for unique problems.  These situations may encompass a whole spectrum of circumstances, however, the success in caring for Catholic priests is understanding the uniqueness of each individual and their particular needs, abilities and desires especially as it effects the extraordinary relationship between the natural and supernatural aspect of the person of the priest.

BishopAccountability.org describes OBS co-founders Joseph Maher and Paul Barron as “members of Legatus.”  This is not unusual. Based in Monaghan’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan, many of the key members of Legatus are also affiliated with the Monahan-founded or funded organizations, notably the ultra orthodox Ave Maria University (“AMU”), in Naples, Florida. These include such Catholic Right luminaries as the late neocon activist Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Fr. Thomas G. Guarino, and Fr. Michael Orsi.

A stern-looking Donohue is pictured on the OBS homepage next to a link to his piece, “Straight Talk about the Catholic Church and SNAP Exposed.”

Fr. Orsi’s past pronouncements about victims of priestly pedophilia have been controversial.  For example, as a December 22, 2008 post at BishopAccountability.org noted:

Orsi’s defense of sexually dysfunctional priests is rich with clericalism. This conclusion was highlighted in the book “Sacrilege:  Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church”.  Leon Podles, a former federal investigator, is the book’s author and, interestingly, a former supporter of AMU.  In the chapter “Clerical Accomplices”, Dr. Podles describes the pass that Orsi gives to guilty homosexual/pederast/pedophile priests as reflective of a time “in which members of society had unequal status before the law.  Such inequality is always irritating, and is often used to protect privileged malefactors – and Orsi resents the loss of privilege.”

Orsi uses his Ave Maria Chaplaincy to promote and defend OBS thanks to his two bosses, Ave Maria School of Law Chairman Tom Monaghan and President-Dean Bernard Dobranski. For all of the rants about liberal immorality, attacks on the family, and the “culture wars” penned by Monaghan and Dobranski in their fundraising letters, you’ll never hear about the wink-and-nod given to Orsi or OBS in keeping pederasts at the altar.

That these Catholic Right leaders seem to want to save Finn’s position as bishop at almost any cost, suggests that their goals for the Church as a bastion of religious and political authoritarianism, takes precedence over everything else — including the safety and well being of children.

Finn Takes A Deal While Donohue Defends the Indefensible

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Robert Finn, the militant Opus Dei bishop and head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri who was recently indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse has cut a deal with prosecutors in nearby Clay County in order to avoid similar charges.

Nevertheless, ubiquitous Catholic Rightist leader, Bill Donohue, is defending the bishop and his indefensible behavior.

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).

Under Missouri law, failure to report such crimes is also a crime. A Jackson County Grand Jury took the unprecedented step of indicting both the bishop and the diocese on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse. After being questioned by a Clay County grand jury on the same issue, a second indictment was a strong possibility.

Now, in order to head off that possibility, Finn has an agreement with the county Prosecutor Daniel L. White. The Kansas City Star reports that the diocese has accepted five-years of oversight in its dealing with possible incidents of priestly pedophilia:

His [Finn's] agreement with Clay County requires him to meet face-to-face with White or his successor each month for the next five years to discuss any allegations of child sex abuse levied against clergy or diocesan staff within the diocese’s Clay County facilities. Finn also is to describe what steps the diocese has taken to address the allegations. White would then decide whether to encourage police to investigate any allegations.

Finn also agreed to visit all nine Clay County parishes to outline new programs the diocese is implementing to protect children. In those meetings, Finn will be accompanied by the diocesan ombudsman and a new director of child and youth protection.

Meanwhile, Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, the priest at the center of the scandal, was indicted by the same prosecutors on three counts of possessing child pornography.

Finn, it is alleged, withheld from police specific evidence implicating a Ratigan for five months, and failed to come forward until he was arrested. Finn had also been warned about the priest a year earlier. The New York Times reported in August:

Father [Shawn] Ratigan, 45, was also an outspoken conservative, according to a profile in The Kansas City Star. He and a class of Catholic school students joined Bishop Finn for the bus ride to the annual March for Life rally in Washington in 2007.

The diocese was first warned about Father Ratigan’s inappropriate interest in young girls as far back as 2006, according to accusations in the civil lawsuit filed Thursday. But there were also more recent warnings.

In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan worked hand-delivered a letter to the vicar general reporting specific episodes that had raised alarms: the priest put a girl on his lap during a bus ride and allowed children to reach into his pants pockets for candy. When a Brownie troop visited Father Ratigan’s house, a parent reported finding a pair of girl’s panties in a planter, the letter said.

As well as:

In December, a computer technician discovered the photographs on Father Ratigan’s laptop and turned it in to the diocese. The next day, the priest was discovered in his closed garage, his motorcycle running, along with a suicide note apologizing to the children, their families and the church.

Father Ratigan survived, was taken to a hospital and was then sent to live at a convent in the diocese, where, the lawsuit and the indictment say, he continued to have contact with children.

Parents in the school and parishioners were told only that Father Ratigan had fallen sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were stunned when he was arrested in May.

The Jackson County indictment’s graphic description of the photographs of children Ratigan had on his computer is very disturbing. Religion scholar Mark Silk recently elaborated:

Discovered by diocesan information systems manager Julie Creech, these were contained in a computer folder with an undisclosed name (the victim’s?) on it.

The first showed a little girl, face visible, standing and holding a blanket. In a “staged sequence,” the photos depicted a girl lying in a bed, from the waist down, and focused on the crotch. The girl was wearing a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was moved gradually to expose her genitals. By the last photo, her genitals were fully exposed. According to Ms. Creech, there were approximately six to eight pictures in this sequence of photos; two displayed fully exposed genitals and one displayed her fully exposed buttocks. The little girl’s face was not visible in the staged sequence, but due to her apparent physical size and the fact that the photos were in the same folder, Ms. Creech assumed the photos were of the same little girl whose face appeared in the initial picture.

It seems perverse to consider this staged toddler striptease show as anything but pornographic–or, for that matter, lacking an identifiable victim.

So, who would defend such indefensible behavior?

Catholic League president, Bill Donohue, that’s who.

He declared in a November 2, 2011 press release: “The SNAP-Star alliance against Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn is a natural: both are anti-Catholic.” (SNAP is the acronym for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests .)

But Donohue was just getting started. The next day, he issued another press release; this one claimed that The Star is nothing more than an “…echo chamber for SNAP.” Five days later, came another press release, this time accusing The Star of ignoring the story of then-Episcopal Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who decided to ordain a former Catholic priest — and admitted pedophile — Bede Parry as an Episcopal priest. (How this contradicts Donohue’s Star-SNAP conspiracy theory is discussed below).

On November 9, 2011 Donohue joined about forty Finn supporters at a protest/press conference in front of the offices of the Kansas City Star. This was followed by a series of press releases fired at both SNAP and the Kansas City Star on November 11, November 11 (again) November 14, November 15, November 16, November 16 (again), and November 17.

Donohue unsuccessfully sought to place an ad defending Finn in the Kansas City Star. The text of the rejected ad was disseminated in hopes of whipping-up support for the besieged bishop.

The ad glosses over Bishop Finn’s alleged complicity in Ratigan’s crimes. For example:

Last December, crotch-shot pictures of young girls, fully clothed, were found on Fr. Ratigan’s computer; there was one photo of a naked girl. The very next day, the Diocese contacted a police officer and described the naked picture; a Diocesan attorney was shown it. Because the photo was not sexual in nature, it was determined that it did not constitute child pornography. This explains why the Independent Review Board was not contacted-there was no specific allegation of child abuse.

By any objective standard, how is a picture of a naked child within that context not sexual in nature? Well, one theory being pushed by Finn’s supporters – including Donohue – is that the indictment is defective because “there was no identifiable at-risk child.”

The ad then veers directly into a personal attack on SNAP leadership.

These lines of defense incorporate much of the Catholic Right’s tactics of obfuscation and diversion.

For example, Donohue alleges that there is an alliance-in-conspiracy between SNAP and the Kansas City Star, but offers no facts to support the charge. He and the Catholic League then slam the Star for failing to go after Episcopalian Bishop Jefferts Schori over the Parry ordination affair. The League also questioned SNAP’s decision to hold the press conference in front of the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

The location was chosen because Parry’s 1987 alleged abuse of a young boy at a summer camp in a nearby diocese was while he was still a Catholic. SNAP was in fact, critical of Jefferts Schori for her ordination of Parry before Donohue alleged that the victims’ advocacy group and the paper were in cahoots. This begs the question: If the two parties were engaged in coordinated conspiracy, then why was SNAP making Parry an issue while the Star hadn’t?

More importantly however, is the League’s claim that Finn had no knowledge of incidents of pedophilia or that there was no identifiable victim.

First, Finn’s reported constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Father Shawn Ratigan is established by two separate warnings, one written and the other oral. Secondly, while no name of the female child in the photograph was known, identity could be temporarily be designated as “Jane Doe, minor.” To say that Finn’s defenders are splitting hairs is an understatement.

But what stands out about Finn’s defenders is that they appear to be well-coordinated. All this merits a closer look into what agendas Finn’s defenders are trying to advance beyond the matter at hand — which is what we will do in part two of this three-part essay.

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