Originally posted at Talk to Action.
Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri in many ways epitomizes the Catholic Right element in the hierarchy. Appointed to his current position in 2006, he is a member of Opus Dei (the secretive, authoritarian Catholic order); has described Catholicism as “the Church militant”; once said “We are at war” with former Notre Dame University President, Father John Jenkins; and has generally engaged in a scorched-earth policy against progressive Catholics and other supporters of Vatican II.
Now Bishop Finn has revealed another dimension of his style of moral leadership. He apparently for five months withheld from police specific evidence implicating a pedophile priest, and did not come forward until the priest was arrested. What’s more Bishop Finn was warned about the priest for a year prior to his arrest.
As the August 14, 2011 New York Times reported:
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.
Finn claimed that he did not read the principal’s letter “in its entirety” until May 26, 2011 – a full year later. What makes his failure to read the letter all the more incriminating is his admission that he had also been given a “brief verbal summary” of the letter by the diocesan vicar general. This is incredible in part because because it is not as if pedophilia not a recognized problem of enormous consequences to the Church, as well as the victims. In 2008 the diocese agreed to settle a priest pedophilia lawsuit with 47 plaintiffs for $10 million.
Of course, Bishop Finn has his defenders. CatholicCulture.org commented on the story, going as far to say, “the report contains no new information.” Old or new, such a conclusion ignores the fact that the information is still damning.
Outraged members of the diocese have organized a movement calling for Finn’s resignation, even making creating Bishop Finn Must Go Facebook page. The Kansas City Star has also called for Finn’s resignation. “A resignation here,” the Star observed, “could be step one in rebuilding faith in the diocese. For step two, area prosecutors must actively pursue all relevant criminal charges against all involved in these scandals.” An obstruction of justice charge against the bishop is well within the realm of possibility.
And perhaps it is time such a charge should be brought against a member of the hierarchy. And if any case demanded it, this would be the one. Bishop Finn was on notice that his diocese had an open wound caused by pedophile priests; sitting on evidence in this case is just unconscionable.
I think most Catholics would agree that such behavior is inexcusable, no matter what their views happen to be on other matters. The Church I belong to needs to thoroughly clean up its act.
But with that said, Bishop Finn’s well-known authoritarianism may indeed be part of the problem. We Catholics must again ask ourselves, how serious is the risk of abuse of authority when a member of the hierarchy views himself as someone separate and above his flock, as opposed to someone who is part of the flock? Is there something about the Opus Dei mentality that allows those in authority to think they can exempt themselves from the rules that apply to everyone else?
The risk of such self-exemption and the remoteness of accountability is one of the reasons why we separate church and state. In a society where both become too intertwined, criminal prosecution in a matter such as this one is near impossible. Certainly that has been the history of the priest pedophilia scandal in many countries including this one. Little happened until The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation exposed the breadth and depth of the problem. Apparently the Church still has a long way to go to live up to its own standards, let alone let in the sunlight enjoyed by the rest of the world.