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In the Matter of Bishop Robert Finn Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 18 November 2011

Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph is a very good man, a man deeply committed to the Church. Therefore, he is not much loved by the so-called progressives and their first cousins, the dissidents.

Finn arrived in Kansas City-St. Joseph when it was what dissenters considered a model of New Church. The National Catholic Reporter wrote at the time, “Perhaps nowhere in America has the transition from a church focused on social engagement and lay empowerment to one more concerned with Catholic identity and evangelization been more dramatic, or in some ways more wrenching, than in the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese since the appointment of Bishop Robert Finn.”

Among the things that got their goat: he cut the Peace and Justice budget in half; directed the diocesan paper no longer to run columns by Richard P. McBrien; and announced he would personally review diocesan newspaper content. In addition, he set up a Respect Life office, gave a parish to the Latin Mass community, cancelled what the Reporter called, “The diocese’s nationally renowned lay formation programs,” and transferred its master’s program out of the diocese to Ave Maria University.

Opus Dei has formed Finn, so his understanding of the lay role is more along with lines of the documents of Vatican II rather than the “spirit of Vatican II.” The latter, it often seems, says that the lay role lies in taking over Church offices, which is to say a play for power within the institutional Church. The Church disagrees. Finn has said, “We have to understand where the power of the laity is. It’s in the family, the workplace, and the marketplace. That’s where the transformation of society has to happen.”

Faithful Catholics in Kansas City and around the country took heart at these developments. A bishop who takes the copier machines away from the dissenters, however, is a red flag in certain quarters. Finn has had a bull’s-eye on his back ever since. Sadly, he has recently given the opposition another arrow to shoot.

A year ago, the Chancery heard that a priest had questionable pictures of children on his computer, some said to be pornographic. It appears that Finn took too long to act on this information and that the accusations were not taken seriously enough. The local prosecutor indicted Finn for not acting more quickly. The dissidents danced a jig.

Almost immediately, however, a deal was announced between Finn and the prosecutor. Every month for five years, Finn will meet with prosecutors and report on allegations of abuse in his diocese. No doubt the dissenters were crushed when Finn was not prosecuted, that he was not dragged into the dock and then off to the hoosegow.


        Bishop Robert Finn

It did not have to be this way. The Church has made amazing progress in recent years in how to handle accusations of abuse – better than any other institution in American society. In fact, the Church as a whole is a model to the world on how to react to even the hint of trouble. Not all dioceses have gotten this message, however. One that has is the one where I live, the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia.

This is how a model process works. Say a phone call comes in to the Arlington Chancery about an accusation of abuse. The alleged abuse may be recent or decades old. No matter, the caller is immediately put in touch with trained counseling professionals who commit themselves to helping the person all the way through the process and offers victims all the help they need.

An investigation is initiated which includes the Chancellor of the Diocese and, if need be, a retired FBI agent. Except in cases that are impossibly vague, law enforcement is always immediately called. The priest – if he is alive and active – may be taken out of ministry at this point.

The Review Board will assess all new accusations and at several points be updated about the case. At some point, if all indications point to a need for action, the case is brought before the board for formal review. The priest is asked to speak to the board, as is the accuser. It is up to each of them whether they do so or not, but they cannot be forced.

After a thorough examination of what can be voluminous evidence, the board makes one decision and then one recommendation. The decision is simply, “is this accusation credible.” If it is not credible, the board passes this along to the bishop who will make his own decision.

The case may proceed or be dropped. If the board decides the accusation is credible, it may make a recommendation to the bishop on what should be done with the priest: either that he be laicized or that he spend his days in diocesan-supervised “prayer and penance,” far from any temptations. The bishop makes the final decision, but the priest may appeal to Rome.

This process is so serious in Arlington that the accuser may not even remember the name of the priest, what happened, or even the year. He may only have a vague recollection. No matter, the charge is still taken seriously and investigated as much as vague charges can be. And a vague charge is taken to the Review Board so that is will at least know the charge has been made.

Such a process has helped the Arlington Diocese, and our very good Bishop Paul Loverde to avoid the trauma in other places like, unfortunately now, Kansas City-St. Joseph.

It appears that local authorities have forced the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to implement a process they should have already adopted long ago. The dissidents want Finn’s head. Let’s hope the Vatican decides otherwise. Finn made a mistake but he is too good a bishop for the Church to lose. No doubt he will never make this mistake again.

 
Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.


 
 
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Comments (15)Add Comment
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written by Titus, November 18, 2011
Hmmm, that sounds like a Diocese of Arlington has rigorous due process, but the analogy to Kansas City fails for the simple reason that there was and is no allegation of abuse in Kansas City.
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written by Manfred, November 18, 2011
Thank you for enumerating all the good things Bp. Finn has accomplished, Mr. Ruse. I have had conversations with priests on this topic (abuse by priests) and they admit that Fr. X "did commit serious sin, he confessed, and he did his penance." Period. What these priests, Joe Paterno et al never seem to grasp is that the perpetrator committed a CRIME and that it is the duty of the district attorney/attorney general to protect the citizens of the state after witnesses to the crime report it.
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written by Howard Kainz, November 18, 2011
I am wondering how "innocent until proven guilty" can be maintained amid all these proactive procedures.
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written by Austin Ruse, November 18, 2011
Titus,

Possessing questionable photos of children on your computer is abuse and should have immediately been reported to the police.
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written by Bos Mutissimus, November 18, 2011
Mr. Ruse: Thank you for writing so favorably about my bishop; indeed he is a just and holy man under savage attack.

I would point out that there is an inaccuracy in your description of the events: Bp. Finn is still under indictment for a misdemeanor charge (failure to report) in Jackson County. The monitoring deal offered by the prosecutor was in Clay County (north of the Missouri River). There is speculation by attorneys not involved with the case that the latter was offered precisely because there is little chance for a conviction (which also implicitly underscores the vindictive nature of the Jackson County indictment).

As to the response, it’s less that Bp. Finn was slow to respond or indifferent. On the contrary: he wasn’t informed promptly. The Vicar General made a cursory review to a retired police officer on the review board, and didn’t show Bp. Finn the nature & extent of the material until months later. You are very correct, though, that there is no small amount of hatred for Bp. Finn in this diocese.

When I was in the Marine Corps, I had the privilege of attending Mass in Arlington parishes. Would that we had that kind of dynamism here.

Sincerely
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written by senex, November 18, 2011
The reporting on this matter has been unclear. Does the statute say that the mere presence of pornographic material on one's computer is a crime? Or must there be some overt act of sexual abuse? What did the priest actually do-- merely view the pornographic material but nothing more, or did he actually molest someone? If the only action was merely viewing pornographic material on the computer screen, isn't this a crime committed by a vast number of people watching TV or programs on their computer?
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written by Austin Ruse, November 18, 2011
Bos,

Thanks for your note. It is hard to know the exact nature of this issue in KC since we cannot trust the KC Star or the left wing blogs.
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written by Patrick, November 18, 2011
senex: read the relevant sentence in the article again.
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written by Mary42, November 18, 2011
Since I learned about Bishop Finn's tribulations, I have been praying for him daily before the Blessed Sacrament during the 3.00 O'Clock Divine Mercy Hour of Greatest Mercy. We all need to understand that the issue of Priests' scandals has been grossly exaggerated by the secular Media for the sole purpose of scandalizing and discrediting the Catholic Church. In another Catholic Website, I came across accurate Statistics which show that the percentage of sex abuse incidences by Catholic Priests in that "liberalized"country of yours called U.S.of America is just 0.5% compared to 99.95% of abuses in the Families, Schools, Protestant Churches and Children's Homes. I was shocked to note that Family/Relatives' related abuses accounted for 48.6%. So this Statement above is absolutely true : "The Church has made amazing progress in recent years in how to handle accusations of abuse – better than any other institution in American society. In fact, the Church as a whole is a model to the world on how to react to even the hint of trouble." To to all Catholic Church persecutors I say: Lay off....call off the hounds and leave my Holy Church and Her Priests alone.
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written by Manfred, November 18, 2011
One of the great values of attending an FSSP chapel is the sacrament of confession. The priest-confessors are very rigorous, allowing no latitude when the penitent introduces his sins or questions on something which might be sinful. The penitents "feet are held to the fire." At a Christmas party last year, a retired Jesuit who comes to these priests for his confession remarked, These priests administer the Sacrament of Confession the way we Jesuits were trained to conduct it,and if we have had continued, many/most priests today would never have been ordained as they would have been culled out in the seminary.
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written by DS, November 18, 2011
Bishop Finn is a holy man, but failed both as shepherd and administrator to protect among the most vulnerable in his flock. This was obviously not intentional, but had real and tragic consequences.

His otherwise exemplary leadership is precisely why this is no less than a scandal to the Church.

The Church is not so weak that it does not have other orthodox bishops to lead the diocese. Removing him as bishop would neither end his vibrant ministry nor hand a victory to the so-called progressives. Rather, it would be strong statement by the Church about its high standards for the episcopate, and ultimately, a strong reinforcement of Catholic orthodoxy.
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written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., November 18, 2011
Manfred, thank you for reminding us of the centrality of the denigration of the Sacrament of Penance to the whole diabolic disorientation swirls around us lke a tornadoI have actually heard from the pulpit the very heresy denounced by St Pope Pius X that Our Savior's empowering of the Apostles to forgive sins was not the Insitution of the Sacrament! There's hardly space on this page for all us to cite half usch instacnes of heresy that we have heard. Truly such is the work of the whom the first Pope told roams the world seeking souls to devour!
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written by Austin Ruse, November 19, 2011
One day, when the SSPX schismatics return to the Church, those rigorous confessions will be valid!
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written by dannyboy, November 19, 2011
FSSP is not the same as SSPX.
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written by Nathan, November 22, 2011
My Bishop, Bishop Finn, is a role model to me. He has done, and will continue to do, much good. There are many Catholics who dissent here and they hate the Bishop. I worked with the priest who took those pictures. He is more than his sins. Bishop Finn was trying to follow the law and at the same time be a father to his fallen priest. He may have made mistakes in handling the case, but I don't believe he broke the law. He should not be removed. Nobody will do a better job at protecting children and advancing the Faith. We are blessed here in Kansas City under Bishop Finn.

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