Kansas City Star - Missouri June 6, 2011
Despite uproar in diocese, KC bishop is unlikely to resign
By JUDY L. THOMAS and GLENN E. RICE | The Kansas City Star
As more details emerge about a priest charged with possessing child pornography, calls are escalating for the leader of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to step down.
But if history is any indication, it’s unlikely Bishop Robert Finn would resign.
Even during a national sex abuse crisis that came to light in the Roman Catholic church a decade ago — and calls for other bishops to resign — that kind of pressure has little effect.
“It’s extremely rare for a bishop to resign,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. “During this entire sex abuse crisis, only one bishop has resigned because of his failure to properly deal with his priests.”
Finn himself could not be reached for comment Monday, but he has apologized publicly on at least three occasions, including in a statement read Sunday at parishes across the diocese. Last week, Finn acknowledged that he did not heed past warnings about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s troubling behavior.
Finn also has supporters who have expressed passionately that he shouldn’t resign.
But Finn has come under sharp criticism for failing to respond to warnings about the priest now accused of possessing child pornography. Since news first broke last month about Ratigan’s arrest, a growing movement of irate Catholics has called for Finn’s ouster.
One man who was scheduled to be ordained as a deacon Saturday after years of training chose not to participate, instead issuing a statement that called the handling of the case “inexcusable.”
•A meeting at the Kansas City, North, Community Center last week organized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests drew a standing-room-only crowd, with many expressing frustration at diocesan leadership.
•Hundreds of Catholics gathered Friday for a meeting with Finn at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in south Kansas City. Many of those attending said afterward that Finn could no longer lead them.
•On Saturday, about 20 Catholics protested across the street from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, calling on Finn to step down as an ordination ceremony for deacons was going on inside. (Twice as many showed up to support Finn.)
•A Facebook page called “Bishop Finn Must Go” has dozens of people calling for the bishop’s resignation, some urging prosecutors to investigate.
Finn’s statements and apologies haven’t satisfied those calling for his resignation.
“I think he has lost a lot of his effectiveness,” said Janice Andwander of south Kansas City, who attended the session Finn held at St. Thomas More and has been a member of the parish for 23 years. “There is not a lot of faith in his leadership.”
Andwander said the recent problem has diminished much of the good work the church and lay leaders have done in the Kansas City community and beyond.
“Things keep getting swept under the rug,” she said. “Now it is time to take away the rug.”
Those who gathered outside the cathedral during the ordination ceremony Saturday also didn’t mince words when talking about the bishop.
“I’m here because he dropped the ball,” said Phil Ways, of St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church. “He’s a bad role model, and he should resign. Period.”
Tom White, a former priest in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas — a separate diocese — displayed a sign that said, “We deserve a shepherd, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Resign Now!”
Among those who were to be ordained as a deacon on Saturday was Jim McConnell, of Holy Family Catholic Church. But last week, after years of preparation, he changed his mind.
“After a great deal of soul searching, prayer and reflection, I have decided not to accept the call to Holy Orders that I have received,” McConnell wrote to parishioners of Holy Family in a note that was posted on the church’s website.
“Because of the recent disclosure of failures within the diocese to protect the people of St. Patrick Parish from harm, I cannot promise respect or obedience that is a part of the diaconate ordination,” wrote McConnell, who could not be reached for comment. “To me this breakdown in the system that was put in place to protect God’s children is inexcusable.”
Supporters of Finn have been vocal as well, with many posting encouraging words on the bishop’s Facebook page.
Jim Dougherty, a candidate for permanent diaconate in the diocese, said he supported Finn and believed the bishop would be able to weather the controversy and would work to improve conditions within the diocese.
“He is a good man and he is a holy man; he really wants to do the right thing,” said Dougherty, who attends St. Louis Catholic Church on Swope Parkway. “I am inspired by his holiness and his courage, and he is the kind of man I would like to be.”
Dougherty said Finn has worked to attract more men into the priesthood and has made positive changes within the diocese.
“In our faith, the ultimate test is when you go on the cross and you stand on your faith,” Dougherty said. “I think Bishop Finn has the heart and the head to run the church in this capacity. He has admitted he could have done things differently, and the bishop is the man who can clean it up.”
In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, whose name became symbolic with the priest sex abuse scandal, resigned over his repeated failure to remove abusive priests from ministry.
Pope John Paul II accepted Law’s resignation, and Law was moved to Rome, where he is now in charge of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Reese said other bishops have resigned in the past decade, but those resignations were because of allegations of sexual impropiety against them, not because of how they handled cases involving their priests.
Only the pope can remove a bishop, said Reese, author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”
“The Vatican has to be convinced that what the guy did was egregious,” he said.
Just last month, Pope Benedict XVI removed an Australian bishop for suggesting that the church discuss ordaining women and married men.
As for Finn stepping down, Reese said, “My guess is this has not risen to the level where the Vatican would want him to resign. And it’s not likely to happen based on past experience.”
A woman who answered the phone at the Papal Nuncio’s office in Washington, D.C., on Monday said that any questions regarding Bishop Finn needed to be put in writing and mailed to the office. The Papal Nuncio is the pope’s representative in the United States.
She added, however, that “there’s not a place where (parishioners) can call and complain about the bishop.”
“First, you should contact the diocese directly.”
Finn has said he regretted that he didn’t take action earlier in the Ratigan case.
A principal of a Catholic school in Kansas City, North, warned the diocese a year ago about Ratigan’s inappropriate behavior around girls, and the diocese learned in December of images Ratigan had on his laptop computer.
But the diocese did not officially notify police until last month.
Ratigan, 45, of Kansas City, North, is charged in Clay County with three counts of possessing child pornography — photos taken while working for churches and schools in the area.
Ratigan has pleaded not guilty and remains in custody, with bond set at $200,000.
On Thursday, the parents of a minor child alleged in a federal lawsuit that beginning around 2006 and continuing through 2010, Ratigan took photographs underneath her clothing and while the child was nude.
The couple also alleged officials were warned in 2006 about Ratigan yet took no action.
On Thursday night, the diocese announced that Finn had removed another priest from his duties because of “credible reports” of sexual misconduct with minors.
The priest, the Rev. Michael Tierney, was accused in a civil lawsuit last year of molesting a 13-year-old Missouri boy in 1971.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, a lawyer representingTierney said his client had done nothing wrong.
Bishop Robert Finn
1979: Ordained a priest, serving as an associate pastor of two parishes in the St. Louis area.
1989: Received a master’s degree in education administration from St. Louis University and became administrator of St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon, Mo.
1996: Appointed director of continuing formation for priests in the St. Louis Archdiocese.
1999: Named editor of the St. Louis Review, the weekly diocesan newspaper.
2004: Named coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by Pope John Paul II.
2005: Succeeded Raymond J. Boland as bishop.
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