Catholic News Service
21 April 2015
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, who was convicted in 2012 on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.
The Vatican announced the bishop’s resignation April 21, specifying it was under the terms of the Code of Canon Law, which says, “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”
The Vatican offered no further comment.
The pope’s acceptance of Bishop Finn’s resignation comes after members of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection announced that one of their priorities was to ensure measures were in place to promote the accountability of bishops in protecting children and upholding the Vatican-approved norms for dealing with accusations of child abuse made against church workers.
In an interview published April 20, Marie Collins, a member of the commission and a survivor of abuse, told the news site Crux, “I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish. He wouldn’t pass a background check.”
Bishop Finn is the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official to face criminal charges related to the priest sex abuse scandal that erupted within the U.S. church in 2002.
In September the Vatican had asked Canadian Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, to make an apostolic visitation to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
On Sept. 6, 2012, Bishop Finn was convicted of one count of failing to report suspected child abuse and acquitted on another count in a brief bench trial.
Diocesan authorities’ failure to immediately report a computer technician’s discovery of child pornography on a computer used by Father Shawn Ratigan, then pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Butler, Missouri, led to Bishop Finn being charged with misdemeanors for failing to report suspected child abuse to state authorities. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph faced similar charges.
In August 2012, the former pastor pleaded guilty to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography. He received 10 years for each count. In September 2013 he started his 50-year sentence in federal prison.
After the priest entered his guilty plea, the diocese filed a petition with the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that he be laicized.
The child pornography was first discovered in December 2010. Authorities were not notified until six months later, when a search of the priest’s family home turned up images of child pornography.
Judge John M. Torrence of Jackson County Circuit in Missouri issued the verdict and sentenced the bishop to two years’ probation. The charges carried a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Torrence dismissed the charges against the diocese after sentencing the bishop.
Several of the steps taken by the diocese to address abuse, including mandatory training of all staff and all clergy and putting in place reporting requirements, were among conditions Torrence set for Bishop Finn’s probation.
Bishop Finn, 62, is a native of St. Louis. Ordained to the priesthood in 1979, he was named coadjutor bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2004 and became bishop in 2005.
Jack Smith, diocesan communications director, said in a statement that Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, has been named apostolic administrator until a successor to Bishop Finn is appointed.
Ottawa archbishop investigates U.S. bishop
The Catholic Register
October 1, 2014
OTTAWA – Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast was sent by the Vatican to investigate the bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, according to published reports.
A report in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) said that Prendergast interviewed several people in the Missouri diocese regarding the leadership of Bishop Robert Finn. Finn had previously been found criminally guilty of shielding a priest in a case involving child pornography.
The Ottawa archdiocese said Prendergast would have no comment on the matter.
“The archbishop considers it a private visit, so we have no comment,” said Ottawa archdiocesan communications director Sarah Du Broy in an email.
NCR reported Prendergast interviewed “more than a dozen people” about the leadership of Finn. In 2012 Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanour for failing to report former priest Shawn Ratigan, who pleaded guilty to child pornography charges earlier that year.
Several of the people the Ottawa archbishop interviewed spoke anonymously to the newspaper, possibly violating the confidential nature of the inquiry. They said the archbishop was making the visitation on behalf of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops and that he asked, “Do you think [Finn] is fit to be a leader?”
NCR quotes the diocese’s former chancellor Jude Huntz as saying he had advised several area Catholics to complain to the Apostolic Nuncio about Finn.
“I hope that there is a leadership change in the diocese of Kansas City St-Joseph,” Huntz told NCR.
Prendergast is an experienced Visitator, having previously been among those North American bishops, including Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, now a cardinal, and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who made visitations to Irish dioceses in 2010 following the Irish sexual abuse crisis.
Pope Benedict XVI appointed Finn to Kansas City in 2005. He has not had a good relationship with the NCR, which is based in his diocese. In 2013, the bishop challenged the use of the word “Catholic” in the newspaper’s name in an article in the diocese’s newspaper, the Catholic Key,
Finn wrote he had been “deluged” with correspondence raising concerns about NCR editorial stances “officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”
Finn has retained the support of widely read priest-blogger Fr. John Zuhsdorf, who recently reported how popular the bishop is with young priests and seminarians and has consistently supported the bishop as orthodox Catholic. The Catholic League has also publicly supported Finn.
Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn under Vatican investigation
The National Catholic Reporter
29 September 2014
Joshua J. McElwee
Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2012. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
A Canadian archbishop visited the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese last week on behalf of the Vatican to investigate the leadership of Bishop Robert Finn, the first Catholic prelate to be found criminally guilty of shielding a priest in the ongoing clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Ottawa, Ontario, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast visited the Midwestern diocese for several days last week, interviewing more than a dozen people about Finn’s leadership, several of those interviewed told NCR.
According to those who spoke with Prendergast, the main question he asked was: “Do you think [Finn] is fit to be a leader?”
The communications officer for the Ottawa archdiocese, Sarah Du Broy, said the archdiocese did not a have comment as “the Archbishop considers it a private visit.”
The director of the Kansas City diocese’s communications office, Jack Smith, originally told NCR that no one in the diocese had heard of Prendergast’s visit. Smith then wrote in an email to NCR later Monday that Finn had been aware that Prendergast was in Kansas City.
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“He cooperated with the process and was obligated by the terms of the visitation not to speak of it to anyone, including his senior staff and communications director,” Smith wrote.
Smith said Finn is currently in Rome for deacon ordinations of several of the diocese’s seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College. When asked Tuesday about NCR’s report that Finn is under Vatican investigation, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi said there was “no more response and no more reply” regarding the situation.
Prendergast, according to those who spoke to him, said he was visiting the diocese on behalf of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, which makes recommendations to the pope on the appointment of bishops around the world.
Finn, who has led the Kansas City diocese since 2005, has come under sustained criticism in the diocese, especially following his conviction in September 2012 of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of a now-former diocesan priest who was producing child pornography.
An investigation of a diocese by another bishop, known formally as a visitation, normally occurs when the pope or one of the Vatican’s congregations have concerns about the leadership of the diocese.
A former chancellor of the Kansas City diocese also confirmed to NCR Monday the ongoing investigation, saying he had helped in an effort to have a Vatican review of Finn’s leadership.
Jude Huntz, who served as the diocese’s second-in-command from 2011 until last month, said he had given advice to several Kansas City-area Catholics who wanted to write to the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio in Washington expressing concerns about Finn.
“I hope that there is a leadership change in the diocese of Kansas City St-Joseph,” said Huntz, who now serves as the director of the Chicago archdiocese’s Office for Peace and Justice. “And that’s been my hope for quite some time.”
Related: “Kansas City Catholics ask Pope Francis to investigate bishop,” Feb. 18; “Letter calls upon Pope Francis to investigate Kansas City bishop,” Aug. 25
Three people who said they spoke to Prendergast as part of the investigation independently confirmed details of the archbishop’s visit but asked to remain anonymous because they had been told not to divulge details of their interviews.
Prendergast’s assignment, one of the individuals said, “was to determine whether or not Bishop Finn is fit to be a leader … whether he had the qualities of leadership to run a diocese.”
According to that source, the archbishop said he was going to speak to both those who were supportive of Finn and those who had concerns.
“I didn’t think he was fit to be a leader,” the source said. “I told the archbishop I thought [Finn] was holy but didn’t have the organizational skills for the diocese.”
The second person said Prendergast took time to listen to all concerns that were expressed and was “very receptive.”
“He just was so open to listen,” the person said. “He was there to learn.”
The individuals said Prendergast told them he was going to make a report of his findings and send it to the Congregation for Bishops for review.
“They may accept or reject whatever I suggest,” Prendergast said, according to one of the individuals.
A third individual, a layman and longtime Kansas City parishioner, said he met with Prendergast “and a priest taking notes” for about 30 minutes at a residence in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City.
This person, who said he has already written to the Vatican’s ambassador in Washington about Finn, told NCR: “[Prendergast and the priest] said they were there to evaluate and make a recommendation if there was a need to make a change in leadership” in the Kansas City diocese.
Finn and his diocese have been under scrutiny for several years, particularly surrounding the handling of sexual misconduct by Shawn Ratigan, a former priest who was found guilty in federal court in September 2013 of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail. Ratigan was laicized in January.
In September 2012, Finn was found guilty in one Missouri county court of the misdemeanor count. Earlier, in November 2011, he made an agreement with prosecutors in another county to suspend misdemeanor charges as long as he agreed to give prosecutors there immediate oversight of the diocese’s sexual abuse reporting procedures.
The Kansas City diocese has also been facing a number of lawsuits for sexual abuse claims and has made a number of large financial settlements in recent years. In 2012, the diocesan paper estimated the diocese had spent $1.39 million for the bishops’ legal defense and almost $4 million for other claims.
The cumulative amount spent by the diocese on sexual abuse claims and defense is a “staggering figure,” Huntz said. “[The Vatican] needs to see those numbers and recognize it for what it is.”
Huntz also said that to offset expenses, the diocese had raised parish assessments, the money the diocese collects from parishes, with some “going up 33 percent.” Huntz attributed higher operating costs to increased insurance payments.
“A parish can’t afford those things,” he said. “It’s really hurting a lot of the parishes from a financial point of view.”
Likewise, the number of Catholics in Kansas City has declined, Huntz said.
“Ten years ago … when Bishop Finn came to Kansas City, the diocese had 165,000 Catholics,” he said. “This past year, I submitted our official statistics to Rome, and we only had 128,000 Catholics. That’s a 25 percent decline.”
News of the Kansas City investigation follows reports last week that the investigation of a diocese in Paraguay led to that bishop’s removal. Pope Francis removed Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of the diocese of Ciudad del Este on Sept. 25, following a visitation to that diocese by Spanish Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, archpriest of Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Huntz said the situation in the Kansas City diocese is “something everybody should care about.”
“We are all united in the larger church, and to see a diocese go downhill like it has should make everybody concerned.”
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]