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      Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone magazine has written a heartfelt and insightful appreciation of the life and music of Christine McVie, who died last Wednesday, November 30.Following, with added images and links, are excerpts from Sheffield’s tribute that particularly caught my attention.Christine McVie always came on like the grown-up in the room, which admit […]
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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.

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Vatican Defrocks A Bishop Over Sexual Abuse – But Not Finn.

Originally posted at Talk to Action.
Pope Francis recently indicated he is serious about ending child sex abuse and cover-ups by Catholic prelates by defrocking a former apostolic nuncio (a nuncio is essentially a high level Vatican diplomat) for having sexual relations with young boys.

But while the Holy See should be applauded for this decisive action, there is unfinished business with the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. And the bishop in question is Robert Finn a darling of the American Catholic Right who have very little to say – at least now that he is a convicted criminal.

As the National Catholic Reporter described recent events:

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ordered the laicization of an archbishop-ambassador accused of paying for sex with minors.

Józef Wesołowski, former apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, will have two months to prepare an appeal to the ruling, which was announced in a brief statement from the Vatican on Friday.

The former nuncio, who the Vatican did not refer to as an archbishop in the statement, was removed from his post in August with little explanation. News accounts days afterward detailed allegations of paying for sex with minors and being connected to a Polish priest accused of sexually assaulting at least 14 underage boys.

But while Francis has acted on Wesołowski, he has yet to remove Robert Finn.

Let’s recall that the crimes of Bishop Finn resulted from his knowledge of the related crimes of a priest in his diocese 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 that priest’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography. Finn knew or had good reason to suspect the priest‘s crimes. Had he acted, he would have prevented other crimes against children under his pastoral care. Indeed, in September 2012 Bishop Finn became the first American prelate convicted of failing to report a pedophile priest.

It is worth recalling that the beneficiary of the cover-up was Fr. Shawn Ratigan who was prosecuted and pleaded of his crimes in Federal Court.

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.

In March of this year I reported that a growing number Kansas City Catholics want Bishop Finn gone.

Pope Francis recently met with victims of Catholic clerical sex abuse. He used the occasion to publicly call for stricter, more decisive actions against Catholic clerics who either engage pedophilia or fail by negligence to prevent it. The Times reported:

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

As a progressive Catholic I truly want Francis to succeed. Catholicism is wanting for the kind of reforms he seems to be all about. People recognize that he seems to be the breath of fresh air the Vatican so desperately needs. But with that said, in certain areas Francis is beginning to face a credibility problem. Soothing words are not enough. Credibility, especially with regards to the pedophilia issue, requires decisive action. And decisive action requires punishing negligent as well as abusive bishops.

And the perfect place to demonstrate decisive action is in Kansas City.

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.

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.

Bishop Finn Found Guilty of Failure to Report Suspected Child Sex Abuse

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On Thursday, September 6th, Robert Finn, the bishop who heads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri was convicted by a Jackson County court of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.

There is no word yet on whether Bishop Finn will be deemed fit to continue to lead the Catholic Church in Kansas City.

Bishop Finn’s conviction stems from the  prosecution of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who 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.

The National Catholic Reporter broke down the conviction as follows:

Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge John Torrence gave Finn a two-year suspended sentence of probation with nine conditions, including mandating direct reporting of future suspicions of child abuse to prosecutors.

Prosecutors had separated the charges against Finn and the diocese into two timeframes: Dec. 16, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011; and Feb. 11, 2011, to May 18, 2011.

Handing down his verdict less than an hour after the trial started, Torrence said he did not have enough evidence to convict Finn during the first timeframe, but evidence “exceeds that which would be necessary” to prove that the bishop “knowingly failed to report” possible abuse during the second.

On that charge, Torrence continued, “the defendant is guilty.”

Following Finn’s verdict, prosecutors asked Torrence to dismiss the charges against the diocese. While the prosecutors’ motion effectively means the charges have been dropped, Torrence said he would not be able to enter a judgment on the matter until Friday morning.

Finn avoided similar charges in nearby Clay County, Missouri by agreeing to government oversight of all pedophilia investigations for the next five years.

The Questions Now Raised

Throughout the proceedings the controversial Opus Dei prelate and Father Ratigan have been receiving legal help from the ultra-conservative, Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), an organization with strong ties to Opus Dei member Thomas Monaghan, William Donohue and several prominent Catholic neocons.

As I have previously noted this conviction could remove a high-profile social conservative voice in a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Will Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop presiding over a diocese convicted of a crime, be removed from office?  If so, will he also be defrocked?

And what of Cardinal Dolan, Bill Donohue and their band of Catholic Right culture warriors who used this case to discourage transparency and accountability waging a scorched earth strategy against SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests as well as against the victimized children?  Will they be disciplined by the Vatican for their behavior?

Incredibly — but not surprisingly — Donohue and the Catholic League have taken a defiant tone, one that resorts to a despicable distortion of the facts. Here is a sample from Donohue’s September 7, 2012 press release:

Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. 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.

The only one spinning “myths” here is Donohue. While Donohue is correct that Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanor instead of a felony is of little consequence. Either way Finn’s criminality is only a matter of degree.  To attempt to diminish the harm Ratigan had on the children and their families is outrageous. And then to claim, “no child was ever abused” is false, and suggests that Donohue’s sympathies are entirely with the perpetrator and enabler of these crimes against children and that he has also forgotten the profound betrayal of their responsibilities as priests.

Donohue then shifts from his sympathy for the pedophiles to a preposterous condemnation of the prosecution of these crimes.

The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.

Children’s private parts were targeted in Ratigan’s photographs and Donohue claims that Bishop Finn is the victim? Such a declaration cries out for the Church to censure this contemptible man who claims to speak for American Catholics. To understand just how off-base Donohue’s defense is, consider this description of Ratigan’s behavior by The New York Times:

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.

If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.

Let’s Listen as Bill Donohue’s Silence Speaks as Loudly as His Words

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Father Shawn Ratigan of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, led by Bishop Robert Finn, has pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

Both Ratigan’s and Bishop Finn’s defenses (Finn is charged with failing to report it) had become a rallying point for some in the Catholic Right, particularly those having intersecting activity in Opus Dei, the Bill Donohue-led Catholic League and neoconservatism.  They further used the incident to try to destroy the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests  (SNAP).

But now that Ratigan has confessed to his pedophilia-related crimes — what do these reactionaries who imagine themselves as defenders of the faith have to say for themselves?

The trial date for Bishop Finn has been set for September 24, 2012.  As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn, previously best known for his Opus Dei vision for the Church and society, had constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Ratigan.

Ratigan’s defense was eventually taken over by Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), a Michigan-based organization funded by Domino’s Pizza chain founder Tom Monaghan. OBS sees its mission as defending priests from allegations of sexual abuse.

OBS had Ratigan examined by a staff psychiatrist who determined that Ratigan was not a pedophile but suffering from “loneliness and depression.”

That questionable diagnosis has been superceded by Ratigan’s August 2, 2012 confession and guilty pleas in Federal Court. As The Kansas City Star reported:

Thursday afternoon, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan stood in the very public forum of a federal courtroom and confessed to some of his own.

Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty to using five girls to produce or attempt to produce child pornography over several years while serving as pastor to congregations in the Northland and St. Joseph.

As well as:

Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison.

“When a defendant who wears a religious collar, who has the trust of the community, engages in conduct of this nature, his crimes are more devastating and more reprehensible,” said David M. Ketchmark, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri. “With today’s guilty pleas … there’s an assurance that he will face stiff mandatory penalties and that he won’t have an opportunity to harm another child.”

Ketchmark said prosecutors will recommend what he termed “a virtual life sentence.”

This brings us back to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League who has distinguished himself by attacking Ratigan’s victims; the  The Kansas City Star for covering the crimes and the cover-up; and SNAP and their attorneys for advocating for the victims. Earlier in the year he staged a number of events in Kansas City at which he denounced anyone who dared to question Bishop Finn’s actions in the matter.

So far, the response of Donahue, and (as far as I know) the other reactionaries mentioned above, has been absolute silence.

A quick view of the Catholic League’s web page containing the organization’s most recent press releases has nary a cyber peep about Kansas City, including one statement on child abuse.

What then do we hear in the silence of the Church and its archest defenders? For at least this Catholic it confirms my initial belief that the actions of Donohue, his organization, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and all those who coalesced around Bishop Finn, that their actions on Kansas City had nothing to do with the well-being of everyday Catholics and everything to do with keeping the hierarchy free from accountability.

Bishop 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.  The fact that these activists 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.

Silence might be a legitimate legal consideration for some in light of Finn’s pending trial. But it soon will be time for Donohue and his cohorts to announce their penance.

They could begin by apologizing to Ratigan’s victims; explaining how they could have been so wrong; telling us how they intend to mend their ways; and making some kind of restitution not only to the victims of children in the care of the Church, but to all those whom they have subjected to calumny.

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 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.