Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Big U.S. Catholic News of Day: Bishop Robert Finn Resigns

And, of course, the big news in the Catholic church in the U.S. today: the convicted felon who was bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, has just resigned. As Laurie Goodstein reports for New York Times,

Such a resignation is extremely rare when a bishop is not ill or close to the retirement age of 75. Bishop Finn is 62 and has served in his diocese just short of 10 years. 
The Vatican announced the resignation in a brief note in its daily news bulletin Tuesday, and did not give a reason. But the Vatican cited a provision in church law under which a bishop is "earnestly requested" to resign because of ill health or “some other grave cause.”

As she notes, Pope Francis (who will be visiting the U.S. this year, and would certainly have had to field serious questions about the fact that Finn had remained in his episcopal seat after having been convicted of placing children at risk by shielding a priest he knew to be a pedophile) has been under mounting pressure to show that he's serious about addressing the abuse crisis. Goodstein quotes Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org, who notes that no pope has ever issued a statement indicating that the reason a bishop has been removed was his record in covering up child abuse.

Doyle states,

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.

David Clohessy of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) notes that, though Finn's resignation is a step forward, it's a small step, since the abuse crisis (and cover-up) in the Catholic church vastly transcends any single bishop. Clohessy writes,

After centuries of abuse and cover up done in secrecy, and decades of abuse and cover up done somewhat in public, one pope has finally seen fit to oust one bishop for complicity in clergy sex crimes. That's encouraging. But it's only a very tiny drop of reform in an enormous bucket of horror. 
Finn's departure will, in the short term, make some adults happier. By itself, it won't, in the long term, make many kids safer. 
Keep in mind that dozens of Kansas City Catholic employees are concealing or have concealed clergy sex crimes. So it's irresponsible for anyone to get complacent. Protecting predators and endangering kids is a deeply-rooted and long-standing pattern in the Catholic hierarchy. It didn't start with one man and won't stop with one man.

For Grant Gallicho at Commonweal, what has happened to Finn may well give other bishops now under fire about abuse cases a rather bad day, and it's a hopeful sign that Pope Francis does mean business about addressing cases of episcopal malfeasance. Gallicho writes, 

Episcopal accountability has been the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal. For decades, Catholics have wondered why the Vatican punished priests who abuse children but not the bishops who enabled them. Was the Holy See even capable of disciplining bishops who fail to protect the most vulnerable under their care? But after Pope Francis removed Bishop Livieres in Paraguay--a decision precipitated by the public outcry over the promotion of an accused cleric--Catholics started to see the writing on the wall. And when it was reported that archbishop who investigated Finn had one main question for interviewees--"Do you think he is fit to be leader?"--that writing became clearer.

For myself, I am happy to see Finn go. But I think we have every reason to conclude that he is far from the only bishop who has covered up cases of abuse of minors by priests. And I am also persuaded that any effective program for combating clerical abuse of minors in the Catholic church must begin with serious discussion of clericalism as the root of the abuse, and with serious intent to dismantle the clerical system from which the abuse proceeds — and to empower the people of God in accord with the directives of the Second Vatican Council.

The photograph of Bishop Finn in court is from a Change.org petition that Jeff Weis of Kansas City created two years ago calling for Finn's resignation. 

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