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The Continuing Spectacle of Bishop Robert Finn

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri has so far survived calls for his resignation or removal by Pope Francis. Finn is a convict who not only failed to report suspected child abuse by a parish priest under his charge: He has become the symbol of ongoing institutional intransigence in addressing the problem of child sex abuse in the Church.

Many Catholics in Finn’s diocese — including priests and nuns — have had more than enough of him. As the National Catholic Reporter recently reported they have formally appealed to the Vatican “to conduct a canonical review of Bishop Robert Finn say the church’s lack of response to his misdemeanor conviction has caused further spiritual harm to the diocese.”

One would think that Pope Francis would be inclined to act decisively. Prior to his election as Pope he had recognized the practice of placing the image of the Church before the well being of children had contributed to the problem. He declared: “I do not believe in taking positions that uphold a certain corporative spirit in order to avoid damaging the image of the institution.”

It has been that “certain corporative spirit” that has caused pain to many inside and outside of the Church. Indeed, the Church isolates itself and undermines its credibility by seeking to hold itself above and beyond the law.

The success of the Church generally, and this papacy in particular, may depend on how it finally addresses the sex abuse scandals. For example, Francis is going to need all the credibility he can muster in order to really be heard when he calls for reform of the shortcomings and abuses of laissez-faire capitalism.

If anyone has enjoyed the protection of corporative spirit, it has been Bishop Finn. A member of Opus Dei, he is well connected to the neoconservative Catholic Right. Indeed, Bill Donohue’s Catholic League (apparently with Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s blessing) has been running interference for the beleaguered bishop to keep him in power.

It is worth recalling that the beneficiary of the cover-up was Fr. Shawn Ratigan who was prosecuted for his crimes. He 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. I wrote here that Bishop Finn must go.

The Kansas City Catholics written about by National Catholic Reporter clearly agree.

“Civil law has done what civil law can do. The church has done nothing in terms of calling Bishop Finn to accountability. He continues as bishop as if nothing really ever happened,” said Mercy Sr. Jeanne Christensen, a former victims’ advocate for the diocese co-heading the appeal. She spoke at a press conference Monday outside the diocesan offices.

The article continued:

“This lack of action by the Catholic Church to do justice and to repair scandal contributes to the ongoing scandal among the faithful that is a result of the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis,” wrote Fr. James Connell in the formal appeal.

Connell, a retired Milwaukee priest and member of the Catholic Whistleblowers victims’ advocacy group, acted as the catalyst to the appeal and contends that Finn’s actions — or inactions — violate ecclesiastical law and thus requires some form of church response. However, he refrained from suggesting an action to the pope, instead limiting his request that an investigation begin.

In the petition, Connell argues that Finn’s failures in the Ratigan case to protect children create a poor example others could follow, and in addition, “could lead other people to alter their faith life and their religious practices.”

The Vatican has confirmed receipt of the petition to investigate.

Writing recently, also in the National Catholic Reporter, retired priest and victims’ advocate Tom Doyle succinctly summed up Pope Francis efforts to date:

A year has passed and Pope Francis’ moves have been minimal. He made sex abuse a crime in the Vatican City State, a move so meaningless it is almost comical. He has not made a major or even a minor pronouncement about the problem and he has done little about bishops who have enabled perpetrators.

Doyle added, in a broadcast interview with PBS Frontline:

“I think what he has to do there is take some very decisive, concrete steps. The bishops that are the foremost ones, who have covered up, who continue to cover up, he has to publicly dismiss them.”

And as many Kansas City Catholics will tell you, Bishop Finn should be the first to go.

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