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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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Bishop Robert Finn and Friends Win the 2013 Coughlin Award

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo franksgraphic_zpsbe286320.jpgIt’s that time of the year again, folks. It’s time for the presentation of the annual Coughlin Award. As it is every year, the competition was stiff, so much so that this year for the first time it is a group award. This year award goes to Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri Bishop Robert Finn and his legion of supporters.

The Coughlin Award — affectionately known as “The Coughie” — is our way of recognizing the person who has best exemplified an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith in the preceding year. The award is named for Father Charles Coughlin, the notorious radio priest of the 1930s who is the role model for today’s Religious Right radio and television evangelists, and other conservative media personalities.

Best known for his diatribes against FDR, Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler, Coughlin’s advocacy was clearly antithetical the very definition of the word “catholic,” which, according to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary means:

Catholic Cath”o*lic\ (k[a^]th”[-o]*[i^]k), a. [L. catholicus, Gr. kaqoliko`s, universal, general; kata` down, wholly + “o`los whole, probably akin to E. solid: cf. F. catholique.]

1. Universal or general; as, the catholic faith.

Men of other countries [came] to bear their part in so great and catholic a war. –Southey.

Note: This epithet, which is applicable to the whole Christian church, or its faith, is claimed by Roman Catholics to belong especially to their church, and in popular usage is so limited.

*Not narrow-minded, partial, or bigoted; liberal; as, catholic tastes.

*Of or pertaining to, or affecting the Roman Catholics; as, the Catholic emancipation act.

In order to win a Coughie, a candidate must complete three qualifying tasks: 1) Make the faith decisively less inclusive 2) Engage in incendiary behavior and 3) Ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winners — as usual — have risen to the challenge.

This year our judges had little problem deciding whom to choose. Bishop Finn did not earn his “Coughie” because of his movement conservative politics but instead by his sense of self-exemption from accountability. Finn’s defenders, who fully share in his award, scratched and clawed their way to this dubious achievement by defending the indefensible.

For those unfamiliar with the saga of Bishop Finn and his refusal to step down as the head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri, let me recap:

Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who 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. Finn not only knew of, or had good reason to suspect Ratigan’s crimes, but had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care.

As anyone familiar with this matter would know, Bishop Finn not only chose not to step down, but actually went on the offensive via several well-connected surrogates.

Led by 2011’s Coughlin Award winner, Bill Donohue (apparently with the blessing of Cardinal Timothy Dolan), his allies went after anyone who demanded accountability for the abused children. This group comprised a veritable Who’s Who of the neoconservative Catholic Right — Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan; Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS) (BishopAccountability.org describes OBS co-founders Joseph Maher and Paul Barron as “members of Legatus.” Based in Monaghan’s hometown of Detroit, Michigan, many of the key members of Legatus are also affiliated with other Monahan-founded or funded organizations); and of course, Donohue’s Catholic League whose board of advisors besides Monaghan, includes several leading theocons as Hadley Arkes, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George, Michael Novak and George Weigel.

This cabal (which rarely expresses concern for the victims) lashed out at the Kansas City Star newspaper for its leading investigative work in the matter, as well as victims rights organization as well as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). As part and parcel of this strategy of obfuscation, an OBS psychiatrist astonishingly concluded that Ratigan’s diagnosis was “loneliness and depression” not pedophilia. The court rejected this argument and convicted the pedophile priest.

Bishop Finn and his aforementioned friends meet all the three requirements of a Coughlin Award winner.

First, they have succeeded in making Catholicism less inclusive by their lack of concern for victims of sexual child predator clergy. They demonstrate that only those who will turn a blind eye to such criminals and their crimes are welcome in their stilted version of the Catholic Church. For them, faith is not as much an expression of spirituality but more like the blunt object used to bludgeon political opponents.

Second, they have engaged in incendiary behavior, not only by willing to be accountable for such an abysmal failure of leadership but by downplaying the seriousness of pedophilia – and even blaming the victims.

Third, the degree of embarrassment to the Catholic Church is self-evident. Bishop Finn’s unwillingness to resign his position of authority sends the wrong message. It sounds like the greater Catholic Church does not police its own house. Instead, the leadership corruptly rewards those like Bishop Finn with the retention of power.

Normally when we issue the annual Coughlin Award there is always a measure of snark and sarcastic humor. That is not the case this year. There is nothing remotely humorous about the failure to protect children from sexual abuse: there is only shame. And for that reason we sadly present the 2013 Coughie to Bishop Robert Finn and his band of Catholic Right apologists.