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And Yet Finn Remains Bishop

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It has been well over two years since Bishop Robert Finn and was convicted by a Missouri criminal court for failing to report child abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan, one of his parish priests. Within that same period of time Ratigan pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and is now serving a 50-year sentence in prison. Finn was warned about Ratigan’s behavior but inexplicably waited six months before notifying authorities.

Enter Pope Francis. On a myriad of issues the new pontiff has been a breath of fresh air. But when it comes to removing Bishop Finn as head of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri the air has gotten quite stale. Finn has yet to be removed.

Just last month Cardinal Sean O’Malley was interviewed by the CBS program 60 Minutes. O’Malley is not just any Cardinal but named by his close friend Pope Francis to lead the Vatican’s new sexual abuse commission aimed at strengthening rules to protect children. When the conversation turned to Bishop Finn, Cardinal O’Malley did not mince his words:

Norah O’Donnell: I want to ask you about Robert Finn, who is the bishop of Kansas City/St. Joseph and, as you know, he pleaded guilty to a criminal misdemeanor for not reporting one of his priests to authorities. Bishop Finn wouldn’t be able to teach Sunday school in Boston.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: That’s right.
Norah O’Donnell: How is that zero tolerance…
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well…
Norah O’Donnell: …that he’s still in place? What does it say to Catholics?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: Well, it’s a question that the Holy See needs to address urgently.
Norah O’Donnell: And there’s a recognition?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: There’s a recognition of that.
Norah O’Donnell: From Pope Francis?
Cardinal Seán O’Malley: From Pope Francis.
If anything sounded as if Bishop Finn I was on his way out the door, it was that exchange. The 60 Minutes statement struck me as two minute warning that Finn would be sacked within the week. But it was not to be.

It has now been more than a month since that interview. Bishop Finn still remains in charge of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Why is he still there?

Bishop Robert Finn is very antithesis Pope Francis. Where the Pontiff is tolerate and more open-minded, Finn is a shrill cultural warrior. More importantly, Finn – a member of Opus Dei – apparently sees the Catholic Church in terms of being an institution whereas Pope Francis – a Jesuit – often talks about the Church and its relationship with helping the marginalized, such as the poor. The differences in styles and agendas could fill the Grand Canyon. This only makes the Pope’s inaction even more puzzling.

But more than anything else, inaction in this matter only hurts Pope Francis. It undermines his credibility by casting him as a leader who says the right thing but does nothing. As long as Finn remains a bishop in control of a diocese there is a black stain on this papacy.

In stating the obvious, it is time to remove this stain in Missouri.

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.

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.

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.

And the Winner of this Year’s Coughie Award is…

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

It’s that time of year once again, to announce the recipient of the Coughlin Award —  presented annually to the person who best exemplifies an exclusionary, strident interpretation of the Catholic faith. 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.

This year the bride’s maid finally takes his walk down the aisle. This Coughie is for you Bill Donohue!

But before we discuss this year’s winner, a few words about the award’s namesake.

The Coughlin Award (aka “the Coughie”) is named after the Catholic priest and anti-Semitic broadcaster  Fr. Charles Coughlin best known for his diatribes against FDR and Judaism and open sympathy with the racist policies of Adolph Hitler.  Such 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 do something that complete three qualifying tasks:  1) Makes the faith decisively less inclusive 2) engages in incendiary behavior  and 3) thereby ultimately embarrasses the Church. This year’s winner — as usual — has risen to the challenge by completing all three tasks with breathtaking simplicity, snatching the victory from a determined field of tough competitors. Deserving winners all.

That’s why deciding upon this year’s Coughie Award winner was an unusually tough call. The judges argued long into the night before the dawning of the Day of Decision.

On the local level, the judges were leaning heavily towards Fr. Michael Gelfant, the Brooklyn pastor who managed to bring the culture war to (coincidentally) my parish of St. Finbar’s. Gelfant disparaged American Catholics and unilaterally took it upon himself to stand in for the Almighty regarding the eternal judgment of atheists (he was reported to have declared that they have no right to Heaven).

Another top contender was Vatican banker Ettore Gotti-Tedeschi for his dissembling of Keynesian economics.

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City/St. Joseph took a shot at the Coughie by failing to take immediate action against a priest who displayed alarming behavior around children.

But it was Donohue’s willingness to defend Finn’s seemingly indefensible behavior that earned him his first Coughie.

While Donohue has come strikingly close in the past to laying claim this richly deserved award, only to have been outdone only at the last minute.

Donohue’s record as an exclusionary Catholic speaks for itself.  As head of the the Catholic League — a vehicle that seems more intent on advancing movement conservatism than protecting the well being of individual Catholics — he has transformed the art of feigned outrage over imaginary acts of anti-Catholicism into a high art form (and at the same time, ignore truer incidents of bigotry). Indeed, many of the acts he deems as offensive are nothing more than the acts of more mainstream Catholics who speak out against the hypocrisy of many of today’s über-traditional hierarchs.

In one rant he attacked as anti-Catholic a PBS documentary on the Inquisition — a program that was produced with the Vatican’s cooperation. Donohue has exhibited a peculiar  obsession with homosexuality and anal sex.

Our Coughie honoree has also resorted to some un-subtle anti-Semitic commentary. For example, when defending Mel Gibson’s controversial filmPassion of the Christ from Jewish (and Catholic) criticism, Donohue bellowed, “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular” — an utterance worthy of  Coughlin himself.

And he did all this while scraping by on a compensation package worth about $400 Grand.

But it was Donohue’s defense of Kansas City bishop Robert Finn that put him over the top. As I recently noted:  “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.”

Donohue has been consistent over the years, and never added any nuance or balance to his repertoire of bombast and hyperbole while pursuing the agenda of  laissez-faire economics, social conservatism, and conservative Catholic orthodoxy — and enabling the cover-up of the acts of serial pedophiles.

I give you Bill Donohue: Winner of the 2011 Coughlin Award.

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.

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.

John Paul II: “Santo Subito” or “Aspetta Un Attimo?”

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On January 14, 2011 The New York Times reported that the late Pope John Paul II will be beatified (able to be venerated, the last step before sainthood) this Spring by the Catholic Church.

Four days later the Times also reported disturbing news that should give the Church pause: On the late pontiff’s watch, the Vatican warned Irish bishops “…that the Vatican had reservations about mandatory reporting for both “moral and canonical” reasons” adding the threat that “bishops who failed to follow canon law procedures precisely might find that their decisions to defrock abusive clerics would be overturned on appeal by Vatican courts.”

When the late Pope John Paul II was being laid to rest some in the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square chanted “santo subito! – Italian for “sainthood now! But in light of recent news some of them might now be thinking “aspetta un attimo!” or, “wait a minute!”

As the Associated Press recently reported:

DUBLIN (AP) – A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police – a disclosure that victims’ groups described as “the smoking gun” needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican’s rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland’s first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

Almost immediately, conservative spin machines such as Fox News and NewsBusters sprung into action, claiming that the letter was no smoking gun (NewsBusters is a project of the Media Research Center which was founded by Catholic Right activist L. Brent Bozell III). Other sources attributed the Times’s reading of the letter to “vagueness.”

But on January 20, 2011 the organization BishopAccountability.org released a 1984 letter to the Diocese of Tucson Arizona regarding an abusive priest that may well serve to clear up any vagueness:

“…under no condition whatever ought the afore-mentioned files be surrendered to any lawyer or judge whatsoever. The files of a Bishop concerning his priests are altogether private; their forced acquisition by civil authority would be an intolerable attack upon the free exercise of religion in the United States.”

“…make known immediately and with clarity that no priest’s files will be sent to any lawyer or judge whatever.”

More importantly, was John Paul II the source of these instructions? If so, there is no saintly quality to such directives.

It is true that John Paul was a charismatic leader. But he was also dogmatic and divisive. He also elevated Opus Dei and other secretive reactionary groups were elevated within the hierarchy. One of these, the Legionnaires of Christ, whose founder Marcial Maciel was a favorite of the late pontiff, was forced into retirement because of decades-long incidents of sexual abuse. This too was part and parcel of his papacy.

As I have argued in the past, the real issue is accountability, which, in turn, speaks to the issue of the separation of church and state. There are no exemptions from the criminal laws of the United States for religious leaders and institutions.

More than his immediate predecessors, John Paul II attempted to directly effect orthodox notions of morality upon secular societies, especially within the United States. Economic issues took a back seat to biological issues. Those politicians who supported more reckless forms of capitalism were often unchallenged by Church leaders as long as they tended to oppose abortion rights, marriage equality and embryonic stem cell research. And to that end, the late pontiff stacked the hierarchy with dogmatists — even those with backgrounds of rampant sexual abuse or the cover-up of abuses.

And that is why I say to those Catholics who still say of John Paul II. “santo subito”: Would a saint have ignored or covered-up priestly pedophilia?

The Inquisitor Pope As the Agent of Apostasy

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Pope Benedict XVI has since 1968 transformed from being a proponent of Vatican II modernization of the Church to an historic leader of an inquisitional war in pursuit of his view of traditional doctrinal orthodoxy. His targets have been the perceived threats of moral relativism and nihilism both within and outside the Church.

But in so doing, he has allowed the pursuit of the so-called culture wars in alliance with U.S. and international elements of the Religious Right, to distract him from a far more profound threat to the Church – the cover-up of a decades-long pedophilia crisis; one that may now entangle the pontiff himself.

Pope Benedict XVI has several monikers. His more orthodox admirers sometimes call him “God’s Rottweiler” due to his ferocious attacks on liberal Catholic dissenters from his campaign to restore and buttress traditionalist dogmas.

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or CDF for short, (previously, and often infamously, known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition) from 1981 until his ascension to the papacy in 2005), Benedict sought to root out progressive dissent. He severely disciplined proponents of Liberation Theology Anthony de Mello and Leonardo Boff.

He also set his sites on more modest dissenters. In 1986 he had the theologian Rev. Charles E. Curran removed from his faculty position at the Catholic University of America for questioning Church teachings birth control, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. During his tenure at CDF he contributed articles on moral relativism to conservative journals. Through surrogates such as Archbisop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Raymond Burke he attempted to tacitly influence the 2004 U.S. Presidential and Congressional Elections. He did this by denying Holy Communion to pro-choice (and predominantly Democratic) candidates.

Upon his ascension to the papacy, he not only continued to suppress deviation from his views of orthodoxy, but sought to shore up support among traditionalists. In one major and controversial moves, he reached out to the The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X, (also known by the acronym, SSPX) known not only for their fondness of the Latin rite, but also for the French Far Right and for featuring in its leadership Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

As we consider Benedict’s career, a picture emerges of a hierarch so consumed with theology that everything else paled in significance, even the pedophilia scandal that is now consuming the Church. The New York Times recently observed::

As archbishop, Benedict expended more energy pursuing theological dissidents than sexual predators. Already in the early 1980s, one could catch a glimpse of a future pope preoccupied with combating any movement away from church tradition. Vatican experts say there is little evidence that Benedict spent much time investigating more than 200 cases of “problem priests” in the diocese, with issues including alcohol abuse, adultery and, now under the microscope, pedophilia.

“His natural habitat was the faculty lounge, and he hadn’t even been a faculty chair,” said John L. Allen Jr. of The National Catholic Reporter. “He would be the first to concede he was much more interested in the life of the mind than the nuts and bolts of administrative work.”

Catholicism has paid a high price for this pontiff’s obsessive lifelong interest in “the life of the mind,” while two recent news stories suggest that at best, he neglected the problem of pedophilic priests: one while serving as the Archbishop of Munich and the other while, as Perfect of the CDF, not properly addressing the matter of Father Lawrence C. Murphy, a Wisconsin priest who molested over 200 deaf boys over a twenty-five year period.

The pope’s failures are even acknowledged by the socially conservative Catholic op-ed writer, Ross Douthat. Writing in the March 29, 2010 edition of The New York Times Douthat began by prefacing his more candid observations by first misplacing some of the blame for the clergy’s pedophilia scandals on the sexual revolution of the 1960s an 1970s:

This hasn’t prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church. Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.)

This is just conservative window-dressing. As the recent Ryan Report on the sexual abuse of minors in Ireland, this has been a problem that has been hushed-up since the 1920s. But then acknowledged:

But it was the church’s conservative instincts – the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics – that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

What’s more, it was a conservative hierarchy’s bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign … to discredit the church.”

And as in 2002 the hierarchy and its defenders have resorted to a bunker mentality. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan bemoaned that the pope is “now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.” Current CDF Prefect Cardinal William Levada attacked the messenger, complaining, the New York Times‘s coverage of he story was, “deficient by any reasonable standards of fairness.”

Catholic League President Bill Donohue distinguished himself by descending to what may be a new low: He blamed the victims — alleging that the crisis was not about pedophilia but homosexuality because “…most of the victims were post pubescent.”

Donohue conveniently glosses over the key component of any incident of sexual abuse: the leveraging of the abuser’s power over the victim. Donohue has a record of siding with the abuser over the victim. For example, when he defended fellow conservative Catholic activist Deal Hudson, a heterosexual with a predator past for which he lost his teaching post at Fordham University. (Donohue’s premise will be the subject of my next post.)

This sad episode in Catholicism underscores the need for greater transparency and accountability from the hierarchy. Power always seems to come before the personal well-being of the congregants. Accountability is avoided. In its place, members of the Church hierarchy brazenly seek to be exempted from the rules that apply to everyone else.

Astonishingly, in this dark hour for Catholicism, the hierarchy is actively opposing legislation now pending in the New York State assembly the Child Victims Act. The bill would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children. (No wonder why many on the Catholic Right rail at the notion of separation of church and state!)

But beyond the political aspects of this crisis is another question.

An uncle of mine asked what about the potential fallout from the Vatican’s intransigency on the abuse issue. I told him that that many rank-and-file Catholics would become estranged from the Church. These Catholics will either join other Christian denominations or perhaps, give up on faith all together. In either outcome, the pope who made a career in fighting apostasy by seeking to quell progressive dissent will have turned out to be the agent of apostasy itself.