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Priest Gets 50 Years for Child Porn – Bishop Who Knew Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Earlier this year I wrote that the credibly of the new Pope may depend on how he lives up to his claim of having a zero tolerance policy regarding child sex abuse.

What measure of tolerance shall we say that the Pope is giving to Bishop Robert Finn, who was convicted over a year ago of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest under his authority and still leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri?  A federal judge deemed the child porn charges of which pedophile priest Fr. Shawn Ratigan was convicted to be so serious that he sentenced Ratigan to 50 years in prison.

I am one of those Catholics who has been cheered by the new pope’s refreshing tone and his embracing of tolerance and humility. Indeed, his recent comments about the Church’s recent obsession with culture war issues may have pulled the rug out from under the Republican Party Auxiliary we generally call the Catholic Right. His recent statements clearly indicate that he may lead the Church to an approach to economic and social justice that transcends Roman Catholicism and embraces the entire world.

But the longer he waits to act on the problem of sex abuse in the Church, the greater the risk that the good will he had earned, and the hope he has given to many millions of Catholics (and non-Catholics) will be lost.

Only the pope has the power to remove a Bishop. And the removal of Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri would be the perfect starting point to show the world that he will back up his words with deeds.

On its face, it ought to be a no-brainer.  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.

I’ve previously written that Bishop Finn — a darling of the American Catholic Right must go.  But Finn has powerful friends.  The American Catholic Right is led by prominent neoconservatives and members of the secretive Catholic order, Opus Dei — and Finn is one of their own. Finn is also revered as a culture warrior, par excellence — having called on the Church to be “the Church militant.”  

No matter who Finn’s friends may be, Pope Francis — who has prominently claimed that he stands with the poor and the vulnerable — is faced with what may be the critical bellwether challenge and opportunity of his papacy.

Advertisement

Bishop Finn Indicted

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Robert Finn, the controversial Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, has been indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse.

This is the first time a head of a diocese has ever been charged with a crime for failing to report pedophile behavior on the part of one of his subordinate priests.

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). And as I wrote in my last piece: It is not only time for Bishop Finn to go; it is time for him to go jail.

Missouri State Law makes it a misdemeanor crime not to report such behavior.

The Kansas City Star broke the news of the indictment:

A Jackson County grand jury has indicted Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse.

The charges, announced at a news conference today, make Finn – leader of the 134,000-member diocese – the highest-ranking Catholic official in the nation to face criminal prosecution in a child sexual abuse case.

The charges stemmed from the long-simmering controversy surrounding Father Shawn Ratigan, who is facing child pornography charges in Clay County and federal court.

“This is a significant charge,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “To my knowledge, a charge like this has not been leveled before.

Both Finn and the diocese entered pleas of not guilty. If convicted, Finn faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine; the diocese only faces a fine of $5,000.

The indictment’s graphic description of the photographs of children Ratigan had on his computer is disturbing. But even more disturbing is the allegation that Bishop Finn sat on the evidence for over five months. If the charge is proven in court, then Finn should be given the maximum penalties.

An indictment of a prelate was bound to happen. The Church’s reactions to calls by members to fix the problem of pedophile priests, have too often ranged from disinterest to cover-up. Now that Jackson County has broken the ice, indictments from other jurisdictions may follow. A Grand Jury in Clay County, MO for one is considering similar charges.

Maybe the Church will hear us now.

Bishop Finn’s Evidence Problem.

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.