Pope Francis accepts resignation of Robert Finn as he faces pressure to deal with Bishop Juan Barros of Chile, accused of similar crime
The Vatican announced the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn (pictured). Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a bishop who was convicted three years ago of protecting a sexually abusive priest.
Robert Finn, of Kansas City diocese, had long been seen as the poster child of the Vatican’s failure to adequately address sex abuse. He was the highest-ranking US church official to have been found guilty of an abuse-related crime, but had not been made by the church to suffer any consequences for that verdict.
The resignation was announced on Tuesday by the Holy See as Pope Francis came under pressure in a separate case involving Bishop Juan Barros of Chile, who has also been accused of shielding a paedophile priest.
The Vatican’s daily news bulletin, which revealed Finn’s resignation, said: “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral government of the diocese of St Joseph-Kansas City, Mo [Missouri], (United States) presented His Excellency Bishop Robert Finn.”
Finn will retain the title of bishop but will no longer lead the Kansas City diocese. Such abrupt resignations are exceedingly rare. Over the past decade, only one bishop among 200 in US dioceses have resigned in a similar fashion, according to the National Catholic Reporter, a media outlet which closely follows the Vatican.
The news will be welcomed by abuse advocates and critics of Pope Francis who have accused the Vatican of being far too slow to respond to Finn’s conviction.
In an interview with the Guardian in March, Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor who sits on a special Vatican committee to address the church’s legacy of abuse, said the committee would prove to be a “pointless exercise” if Finn were not removed immediately and the case in Chile remained unresolved. Asked for his response to Tuesday’s news, Saunders told the Guardian: “He should have been sacked a long time ago. Hopefully they can now take stock and move on.”
Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanour charge in 2012 after he failed to alert authorities to the fact that pornographic images of young girls had been found on the computer of a priest in his charge, the Rev Shawn Ratigan.
He was sentenced to two years of probation and his diocese was fined $1m (£670,000).
Abuse advocates began calling for his resignation three years ago, but the demands fell on deaf ears. Church officials said at the time that Finn would continue to carry out the “important obligations placed on him by the court”.
The resignation are likely to be seen as sending a message about how the church intends to deal with officials who are accused of covering up sex abuse. Two survivors of clerical sex abuse, Saunders and Marie Collins – who also sits on the committee – have been critical of Pope Francis’s handling of the Barros case.
Pope Accepts Resignation Of Bishop Robert Finn For Not Reporting Abuse
21 April 2015
VATICAN CITY (AP) – Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, answering calls by victims to take action against bishops who cover up for pedophile priests.
The Vatican said Tuesday that Bishop Robert Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office. It didn’t provide a reason; Finn is 62, some 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75.
Finn, who leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.
Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to re port suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years’ probation in 2012. Ever since, though, he has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.
No U.S. bishop has been forcibly removed for covering up for guilty clergy. And technically speaking, Finn wasn’t removed, he offered to resign, in the same way that Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law offered to resign in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in his archdiocese.
Law hadn’t been convicted of a crime, as Finn was, and the failure of the Vatican to forcibly remove Finn for three years after he pleaded guilty fueled victims’ complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the “zero tolerance” pledge of Francis.
In a statement, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online abuse resource, said Finn’s resignation was a welcome step but called on Francis to publicly s t ate that he was removed for mismanaging the Ratigan case and failing to protect children.
She noted that bishops had been allowed to resign under the past two popes, but that the Vatican has never publicly linked their resignations to mishandling abuse cases.
“We urge Pope Francis to issue such a statement immediately. That would be unprecedented, and it would send a bracing message to bishops and religious superiors worldwide that a new era has begun,” she said.
Finn, who apologized for Ratigan’s abuse and took measures to make the diocese safe for children, remains the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.
Even Francis’ top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, had said publicly last year that Francis needs to “urgently” address Finn’s case, though he later stressed that Finn deserved due process and must be spared “crowd-based condemnations.”
The Vatican la s t fall sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn’s diocese as part of an investigation of his leadership. But until Tuesday, there had been no word about what the pope would do.
In a statement issued by the diocese, Finn said it had been an “honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.”
He asked for prayers for the next bishop.
Francis tapped Archbishop Joseph Naumman to lead the diocese temporarily until a new bishop is named. In a letter to the faithful, Nauman said he prayed “that the coming weeks and months will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese.”
Francis is facing similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his appointment due to his longtime affiliation with Chile’s most notorious molester, the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
Karadima’s victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima’s crimes i n 2010. The Vatican has defended the appointment. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Earlier this month, members of the pope’s sex abuse advisory commission came to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros and his suitability for office given he will be responsible for child protection programs.