Kansas City Sunset

Bishop FinnIt was somewhat surreal today, as the family and I were driving on Broadway through downtown Kansas City on the way to the young miss’s cardiology check-up. I pointed out the shiny dome of the cathedral. A few seconds later I said, “Wave to Bishop Finn.” A few hours later, a friend texted me, “Finn is OUT.”

A perfect example of coincidence, not causality.

Bishop Robert Finn has resigned, and that action was accepted by the Vatican. While waiting for lunch to be served later this afternoon at a restaurant on the way home, I perused a few comment threads on the net. I’m going to thread my own comments through my assessment of other persons.

I think it was on NCRep that one of Bishop Finn’s seminary classmates related some touching details of a personal relationship. As a student in Rome, Robert Finn seemed to have many of the qualities that would get a promising young guy sent overseas or experience and seasoning. Where did it go wrong? I’ve said on this site I found him to be more personable than his predecessor–and I took a bit of heat from one or two others who knew them both, and probably better than I did. My sense of the man is that he is earnest, caring, and somewhat stiff. Maybe a bit aloof. Blame his Rome training with the Dominicans? Opus Dei? His mentors? His lack of experience as a pastor? Clearly, his mentors did him no favors shielding him from parish work where he could gain experience in the deep trenches of pastoral ministry.

Perhaps the deeper sickness is the side of the institution that simply uses people. Uses them up in the case of Cardinal George. Rome knew he was in the throes of a third battle with cancer, but they let him continue in a demanding post for three years after he tendered his resignation.

If I were a friend of either of these men, I might be a bit angry for their ill-treatment. A heroic-minded Cardinal George likely would not have appealed for mercy in his dying years. Didn’t he have a friend who was willing to go to Rome, to Cong-Bishops, or to one of two popes and say, “Let this guy off the hook. Give him a few years to pray, write, mentor, and serve more quietly in some capacity.”

Likewise with Bishop Finn. Was there anyone to commiserate about an imploding diocese with tens of thousands of Catholics off the parish rolls? What were his mentors possibly telling him? Bill Donohue feeding his ego? Bishops telling him to blame the press, the liberals, the clergy, the uppity laity? How was that helpful?

As the women were dozing in the car on the last leg of the trip home, I wondered about the priests who might appear on the terna for Kansas City-St Joseph. How do you rebuild a diocese in a situation like that? Six years or so of young clergy who were mentored by the man now in an early retirement, the ground now yanked out from under their feet. Older clergy split and probably disillusioned if their parishes were the ones with a 20 percent or more drop in parishioners. Parents who, understandably, put their children first. I would have no idea where to start. How many priests will turn down Pope Francis before someone accepts the cathedra at Immaculate Conception?

For this reason, I cannot bring myself to see this day as one of rejoicing or victory, or even relief. There is an immense amount of work ahead. It is always harder to tear down than to build up.

What do you readers think of all this?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to Kansas City Sunset

  1. The whole things has me running the gamut from anger to sadness – as it always has. No rejoicing, that is for certain.

  2. Atheist Max says:

    As long as religious leaders fail to study the totality of their religion, I’d rather they retire.
    Honesty is the prime directive. Nothing less is worth the bother.

    • Todd says:

      Max, I don’t think it is a matter of an intellectual failing, of incomplete studies. Even for a atheist, honesty is not really the prime human directive. The prime directive is love. Love is a choice, not an emotional fling. Honesty can sometimes be a tool of manipulation, and is easily perverted for personal gain.

      You, for example, persist in the use of a pseudonym. That is not complete honesty, though you may have reasons for it.

      • Atheist Max says:


        “Honesty can sometimes be a tool of manipulation, and easily perverted for personal gain”

        How? Todd, that makes no sense. Dishonesty is the perversion, not honesty. You talk as though you don’t know what honesty is.
        And what good is love without honesty?
        Are you honestly claiming a cheating husband is less likely to be manipulative than an honest husband?

        In any case, if a religious leader comes to an honest self-awareness that their religion makes no sense it would be immoral to not share that insight with those who look up to him as an authority on the subject of religion. If one is not certain that a God exists, one cannot honestly claim he is certain. The only honest words are: “I don’t know.”

      • Todd says:

        People use honesty selectively. They can tell all, violating confidentiality, and pushing people’s buttons. We all make choices about who we tell and how we tell. Honesty is fairly often a judgment call. If you were a parent, you would realize that honesty and childrearing are often incompatible. And there are times when revealing infidelity is not the wisest course.

        Your last example isn’t really germane to this thread. I think you can predict my answer.

      • Atheist Max says:

        You’ve decided love and honesty don’t mix. Amazing. Because only if one loves the truth more than he is in love with love can one begin to ask the right questions.

        Bishop Robert Finn is gone. But why?
        Why was he fired? Did he admit to the Vatican he lost his faith?
        If you want the truth you need to seek the honest answer.
        If you don’t want the truth – but after something else – you are immediately being deceptive.

        Does the bread actually turn into the literal body of Jesus when it is blessed by a priest?
        Any answer other than the truth goes by a different name. And to pursue the truth is far more important than some idea about love. If you fail at honesty there can be no love.

      • Todd says:

        Max. please don’t presume to tell me what I’ve said or what you think I’ve said. People can misuse honesty for ill purposes. Nearly any good thing can be perverted when taken to extremes. If you were nearly my age, as you claim, you would have experience with this. It doesn’t take a person of faith to realize that many good things: wine, sex, sports, dieting, and yes, even honesty, can be abused when taken to extremes.

        Honesty is not the prime directive, as you state. It is a good policy. But love is the answer, as John Lennon so aptly put it. Your theories and opinion about honesty are interesting, but I would reject them. In rejecting them I don’t abandon honesty as a value. I only reject it as an idol.

        What the press release says is that Bishop Finn resigned. Canon law is cited. The honest truth is that we don’t know how the resignation came to be. There may or may not have been pressure from the pope, from the curia, from other American bishops, from his family, or from trusted advisors. That information is not relevant to me. The act is accomplished. That’s all I need to know.

        As a man of faith, Bishop Finn–or any of us, really–can make mistakes. Those mistakes might be due to a lack of knowledge, or some moral failing, or a misunderstanding, etc.. I know Bishop Finn, and my speculation is that his error wasn’t due to a lack of information, or to an act of malice. He made a small number of misjudgments that created a problem of credibility.

  3. Atheist Max says:

    “In rejecting them I don’t abandon honesty as a value. I only reject it as an idol.”

    So love is a better idol?
    I’m simply against deception of all kinds. And I fully recognize that we deceive ourselves.

    I had the sense from what you wrote that an injustice had been done to Bishop Finn by someone higher up. But it appears he may not have been honest about something. As long as nobody is accusing him of a crime, it isn’t my business.

    Would you not prefer a world where people are credible? As in tell the truth as you would want others to tell the truth?
    “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” requires no religion, it is simple reciprocity and a socially evolved moral code – but it is vital to a healthy society.

    Is it not the priority that we build a world where people believe as many true things as possible and as few untrue things as possible? Isn’t that fairer than a world where everybody says they love each other and it is just a lie?

    • Todd says:

      If you mean being in love with love, no: I pretty much reject that too.

      It’s interesting you thought I thought Bishop Finn was being done an injustice. The man resigned his position. It was accepted. End of his chapter, it seems.

      A world filled with credible people–certainly that’s desirable. But in human interaction, there are times when help is not helpful, and when keeping confidentiality is more important than blurting out someone else’s truth. My sense is that Bishop Finn’s brand of leadership was at times unhelpful, and his desire to keep confidences and avoid scandal were cures worse than the disease. But the ability to discern and judge is part of what makes for a mature an stable adult.

      • Atheist Max says:

        “confidentiality is more important than blurting out”

        Confidentiality is not the avoidance of honesty. You are talking about diplomacy and tact. These are functions of empathy and understanding – none of which is possible without honesty. And empathy is a two-way street. Without honesty, for example, keeping a confidence could be a ruse to make you unknowingly complicit in a crime. I need not tell you about how much damage that has done to the church in one particular area.

        “The ability to discern and judge ”
        Just a note – there is no role for a god in that equation. Never was.

      • Todd says:

        Glad we’re somewhat in agreement at last. Confidentiality rather sinks the idea of honesty as a “prime” directive. Love rather rises supreme in that the good of the other is always placed above self-enhancement.

      • Liam says:

        It might help if we occasionally use a clarifying word like caritas or agape when the word “love” becomes a stumbling block. The fact that the English word “love” is a many-splendored thing also means it allows people to object about a mushy meaning of love. Unfortunately, “non-egoistic love” sounds even worse (like a DSM-H8 term) than the Latin or Greek (and, unfortunately, lots of people engaging in quite egoistic love imagine it’s “self-giving” or even “sacrificial”).

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