Why Not Chicago or Kansas City?

CNS has a nice puff piece on how bishops make nice with diocesan review boards. Would have been interesting to ask some big-city archdioceses and a few key hot spots: Chicago, Los Angeles, New Hampshire, Santa Rosa, Kansas City. Can we have some real Catholic journalism, please? Do you think the new cutting edge will have something to say, or will it cede all reporting on this to the secular press and the loyal opposition?

David Gibson did ask the archbishop of that first hot spot. Cardinal George’s comportment is hardly ideal, and gives further credence to the notion that these bishops just don’t get it.

And we then have Kansas City.

That situation was a big worry last week for us, and while another tragedy has superceded it in our minds, I have heard from a few contacts in my old parish and diocese.

One thing that is incomprehensible to me is how the Kansas City-St Joseph diocese could embark on an outreach to men addicted to pornography … yet fail to recognize it when it pops up in the very midst of their clergy. Were they at all serious about it? Or is porn seen as a white middle-class non-celibate indulgence with images of unclothed women? A way to reach out to sinners, but heaven forbid that any taint of reform should touch the institution or those who people lead it.

Bishop Finn’s apologists insist he was acting within legal bounds, offering his troubled priest every possible benefit of the doubt. On the other side, you would have people who think the bishop must go. And I wouldn’t discount that opinion as the extreme fringe. Others think prison time is not out of bounds, and they’re not talking only about the offending priest.

My former parish has a troubled history with offending clergy. One priest with one credible accusation was in-residence for years before people learned in 2002 of that one accusation. You can imagine the firestorm that hit during the Boston episode. “I’ve lost all my credibility,” the pastor (who had allowed him to preside at school Masses and hear confessions of kids) confessed to me.

Some of the rest of it was simple and seemingly innocent stuff: two visiting priests were evaded by altar servers because of uncomfortable touching things: helping with a cincture or a poke or tickle. One priest objected directly: I want the servers in the sacristy with me so I know they’ve shown up.

“No, Father,” I explained, “That’s not going to happen. I brief them on extra liturgy things in the narthex, and I want them ready to process on time.”

What I didn’t explain was the wide latitude our server parents were giving me. As a parent, I can tell you our sense of safety for our children does not dull as time passes. And these days, no priest gets a full pass.

I was reminded that Fr Shawn was a photo nut for the year he was assigned to serve our parish. Nobody really thought much of that. The parish web site and bulletin boards had a lot of his stuff on it.

As for Bishop Finn, I’m not sure what to write. I think he has lost a great deal of credibility as an administrator and as a moral leader. He approves an initiative against porn and starts an outreach to men plagued by it. That’s a very good thing. But his own statement seemed rather dodgy. He showed compassion to his priest, but it almost seems he wanted to avoid getting his own hands dirty.

On the other hand, he showed a lot of fortitude allowing himself to be confronted by hundreds of angry parishioners last Friday night. From NCRep:

As soon as you knew what was going on, why the Hell didn’t you tell me something?

Bishop Finn conceded and is reported to have said:

I should have done differently in this regard and I’m sorry. Don’t trust me. Trust our Lord Jesus Christ, trust his Church.

Believers have faith in Christ. But many don’t know what the Church is. Is it a bureaucracy we are counseled not to trust? A failed ideology that wraps itself in the mantle of virtue but fails to protect the innocent? A community of believers who take responsibility for their faith?

It’s a hell of a thing for a bishop to tell us not to trust him. Being trustworthy is an admirable virtue. Scouts know it. Any of us in significant relationships expect trust. We cultivate it and attempt to give it to others. Maybe we can quote, “Put no trust in princes.” But in a society of any population beyond one, trust is what makes it go. We’re not all going to retire to chapels in individual adoration here. We’re going to keep going to Mass, sending our kids to church events, hire people to serve us, and endure the appointment of Cardinals Rigali and Law and their committee. The bishop needs to live up to the trust people (should) put in him. And if he can’t live up to it, he should make way for someone who fits the bill.

No, I don’t think Bishop Finn should resign. At worst, he’s a naive ideologue. He and his diocese are stuck with each other for seventeen more years. He’s already alienated most of the liberal wing of his flock. And now he’s added parents to that list. As a bishop, he is responsible for all of them. He may cede trust to the Almighty, but on this planet, he’s responsible for the faith of his diocese. And as a man, he’s responsible for his conduct–legally, personally, and as an administrator.

I hope he prays long and hard about it all. But I don’t think we should let him off the hook because his nose got bloodied on this one. Time to get up, dust off, and go back to work. But I don’t envy him that task.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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7 Responses to Why Not Chicago or Kansas City?

  1. NL says:

    This case, Philly, and the mess in the Netherlands are so dispiriting because they are happening in 2011 after all that we have been through. In KC Bp. Finn got many things right, but he got the most important things wrong, which is aggravating at a distance and I can’t imagine what atmosphere is like from up close.

    Bp. Finn removed the priest from contact with children, placed strict limitations on his conduct, and enforced those limitations when they were breached by going to the police. That is all well and good. He should, however, have gone to the police immediately in an official manner as soon as the first set of disturbing photographs were discovered. Irrespective of whether they rose to the technical level of child pornography, they were clearly serious enough that Bp. Finn was himself able to identify the man as someone with a sexual attraction to children, and they were serious enough that the police were able to obtain a search warrant based on their existence. These had to have been some seriously troubling pictures, because search warrants are not handed out willy-nilly. I don’t understand the five month wait. Neither do the police, who have said as much, which, however obliquely- and it wasn’t very oblique, really- is a definite and stinging criticism of Bp Flinn by the police department.

    I also think that Bishop Finn should have immediately informed all of the parents whose children were in those photos of what was happening. I know that’s tough, and I know I would blanch at the prospect, but it is what has to be done and it is the burden of authority in cases like this. If Bp. Finn had done these two things, as difficult as that would have been, within a very short while all of the blame and all of the anger would have focused on the priest who abused his position in taking these pictures, and some sort of healing process could have begun.

    Healing will still take place, but it is so demoralizing to see significant mistakes still being made at this late date. I don’t think Bp. Finn is a bad man, I don’t find him sinister, and he did get some very important things right. Unfortunately, he seems to have been paralyzed by fear here, the fear of bad publicity. What is the result? A bigger mess than this ever needed to be. This could have been a case of how to do things right. I don’t understand the fear. Jesus tells us over and over to have faith, and not a restricted faith in God’s existence, but a faith that He will work all things for good. The Bishops need to demonstrate this faith and work transparently to purify this Church. Nothing can be hidden out of fear any more. This can’t go on drip by drip year after year. This has to be faced directly and openly from now on, as long as human nature is as flawed as it is.

  2. Jimmy Mac says:

    Eugene Kennedy’s “U.S. Bishops: The Great Inertia” at http://www.ncronline.org/node/2535

  3. Harry says:

    Way back when the Dallas protocols were written in 2002, Tom Beaudoin wrote a piece (in America, I think) about how we are entering an era of the “unforgiveable sin” with the calls for “zero tolerance.”

    It is one thing to remove an offending priest from ministry. It is quite another to demand that they all be drawn and quartered, and label them as unredeemable, which really should send chills down the spines of all Christians.

    The “priest in residence” to whom you refer is an excellent example. After allegations against him surfaced, he was removed from pastoral administration, got treatment for his alcoholism, and offered another two decades of spotless service to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph until he was ultimately removed from ministry under the Dallas “zero tolerance” protocols.

    Bishop Finn has been the first to admit he made a really dumb mistake in the Ratigan case, seeing the red flag that was right in front of him, but still only making some of the decisions he should have made.

    He has publicly apologized, publicly promised changes not only in diocesan policies and procedures but in himself, and still it is not enough to suit some people, who demand his resignation, his imprisonment or both.

    I don’t want to minimize the crimes for which Father Ratigan is accused. But if we want to call him a monster beyond the power of Christ’s healing and redemption, then what hope do any of us really have?

    • Liam says:

      It’s not to treat someone as a monster to refuse to re-admit them to active ministry where risks will recur. That’s just prudence, and does not negate forgiveness.

      In any event, let’s not forget the bishop here. Much of the ire is in the lack of controls in how bishops manage these issues. The bishops don’t help themselves by trying to shift the focus of that ire away from themselves and onto accusers or the priests. It doesn’t help when Catholics elide the issue of the bishops.

      Here’s a rule about managing reactions: the more you try to co-opt, manage and/or deflect a reaction, the more you will intensify it. The bishops are trying hard to avoid learning that lesson.

  4. Todd says:

    Harry, you raise good points. Some of public reticence about sex abusers is that we are told a cure is next to impossible. And indeed, Fr Shawn’s own tale reveals how quickly he went from suicidal despair to proclaiming himself “completely cleared” and go off violating his bishop’s conditions at will.

    It might be more impossible for our country to get it right–more than 1% of American adults are jailed. So what reasonable hope do we have when the culture insists on punishment, especially since the 1980′s?

    We simply lack the will, if not the imagination, to create places where offenders can find the possibility of healing and redemption.

    One might think that as the Church’s old ministries (adoption services, hospitals, and schools, for example) are challenged to reassessment and discernment, we would look to new horizons, possibly solving how to take care of “our own.” (Even as no one wants to admit they are our own.) Instead, we seem satisfied with very safe copycatting, such as new ways of doing schools, or new ways of doing medical care. Or sullen withdrawal if we can’t place the babies. And our emotional attitudes are not unlike the worst of the cultural talk shows.

    The institution, however, is very well acquainted with zero tolerance. And the local church under Bishop Finn is associated with a certain ruthlessness. People who demand his resignation may well be holding a mirror to the man, who was no less gentle himself. And more, his own zero tolerance was streaked with inexperience and incompetence. Not long after he took over, he sacked the person responsible for child protection oversight in the diocese. And he didn’t even know it. It was largely why his diocese was labeled non-compliant with the charter under his first audit. They were still scrambling to get the pieces back into place.

    Personally, I have no problem with conservatives. I see them as vital parts of a healthy culture or Church. The problem for the latter is when ideology replaces the Gospel. We’ve certainly seen that conservative Catholicism is no more virtuous or moral or competent than any other faction. Indeed, when it gets too full of itself, it is an outright danger.

    I believe Robert Finn is a sensitive and moral man, clouded somewhat by ideology. But I suspect this episode stings him deeply. And if that is a spark for his own redemption, then perhaps one episode of healing will emerge from this mess.

  5. Joe says:

    Looking over the website for St. Patrick’s Parish, North 42nd Terrace, Kansas City, Mo., it is difficult to get a handle on how large a parish it is, how many priests are in residence, who replaced the miscreant, how many youngsters are in the school, what the sacramental numbers are, etc. Do the faithful ever receive an audit of parish finances? It seems that Bishop Finn’s diocese is only about 10% Catholic, and the stats on catholic-hierarchy.org show he has a priest for every 800 Catholics. Also, I was struck by the modest household income of Kansas City, Mo.
    Any help describing the parish? Thanks.

  6. NL says:

    “Personally, I have no problem with conservatives. I see them as vital parts of a healthy culture or Church. The problem for the latter is when ideology replaces the Gospel.”

    Sometimes ideology over-rides honor and honesty. It can cloud, distort, pervert and misdirect.

    This is not a problem confined to traditionalists, but for me disenchantment began to creep in last April or May when the Pope gave a whole series of addresses, homilies and General Audiences clearly calling for a a cultural change in the Church, a change towards a proper ethic of service rather than a feeling of entitlement. I welcomed this direction and felt it was a message that needed to be amplified, because whatever policy changes are made will not work absent the proper culture to apply them. I told people, this is a theologian pope and he is making the theological case for reform; this is a big deal. And then, all of those who make a grand show of their support for the pope fell silent (Fr. Dwight Longenecker, God love him, being a notable exception). Was it because he was starting a conversation on clericalism and they would have no part of it? I don’t know. But I do love this Pope and it is not only for show, and I found the silence of his supposed allies shameful.

    Those really were beautiful speeches if you ever get the chance to read them. Maybe, hopefully, the are having an influence beneath the surface within the episcopacy.

    I found one, I remember several: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20100526_en.html

    “It is important, therefore, to recognize that human authority is never an end in itself but always and only a means and that, necessarily and in every age, the end is the person, created by God with his own inviolable dignity and called to relate to his Creator, both along the path of his earthly journey and in eternal life; it is an authority exercised in responsibility before God, before the Creator. An authority whose sole purpose is understood to be to serve the true good of the person and to be a glass through which we can see the one and supreme Good, which is God…

    “The Church is called and commits herself to exercise this kind of authority which is service and exercises it not in her own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ…

    “Jesus’ way of governing was not through dominion, but in the humble and loving service of the Washing of the feet, and the kingship of Christ over the Universe is not an earthly triumph, but reaches its highest point on the wood of the Cross, which becomes a judgement for the world and a point of reference for the exercising of that authority which is the true expression of pastoral charity.”

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