Thursday, June 23, 2011

Continued Rumblings in Kansas City Diocese: New Allegations Issued v. Diocese in Current Lawsuit

The situation in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese continues to rumble along.  Yesterday, Joshua McElwee reported at National Catholic Reporter that Bishop Finn has now directed the diocese's office of worship to "remove its participation in" the upcoming Latin Mass to effect diocesan unity, about which I blogged yesterday.  What's that about, I wonder?

As I noted in yesterday's posting, McElwee's article about the Latin Mass to be held next week notes that "[a]nnouncement of the Mass came via an e-mail letter from the diocesan worship office yesterday [i.e., 20 June]."  McElwee transcribes the diocese's e-mail announcing the Mass.

Difficult to imagine that, if the diocesan worship office sent out the announcement about the impending Latin Mass for diocesan unity, Bishop Finn has not been in the mix planning it, isn't it?  If he hasn't been, then it appears he's not a very effective hands-on administrator of his diocese, doesn't it--something his apologies for what happened with Father Shawn Ratigan have sought to imply already.  

It's fascinating how, when it comes to taking responsibility for decisions they make and actions they take, bishops so frequently recede behind a veil, with claims that someone else in the ships of which they're masters is responsible for bad decision-making and bad planning.  When it comes to asserting power and authority, however, bishops' claims are absolute.  They alone are the masters of their ships.

This formula, which places absolute power and authority in the hands of bishops right up to the moment at which they are asked to own the decisions they have made as those decisions go awry, is a formula for disaster that we see playing out again and again in the abuse situation in the Catholic church.  It's an exceptionally unhappy formula in which a lack of transparency and accountability are built right into the institution's authority structures by institutional rubrics themselves--deliberately so, to shield Catholic officials from responsibility for the consequences of their poor leadership, while according them unbridled authority.

I can't think of any well-functioning structure of any kind, either in the business world, governmental spheres, or other bodies, that works this way.  In the Catholic church, it's a legacy of the fateful arrangement the church made with Roman imperial authorities following the Constantinean turn, which made bishops quasi-imperial rulers with absolute control of their own fiefdoms.

The Catholic church is suffering tremendously now as a result of that formula, and its inability (or refusal is a more apt word) to get over that arrangement in a postmodern world in which the arrangement has long since become entirely untenable is threatening the very future of the Catholic church, insofar as its top leaders continue to resist calls to change the way power is allocated in their church and to permit lay Catholics a role in governing the church.

Meanwhile, as I've been noting in previous postings (and here), one of the predictable p-r moves Finn would almost certainly try in order to deflect attention from himself as ultimately responsible for the decision to keep Fr. Ratigan in ministry after it became known that Ratigan had child pornography on his computer would be to scapegoat a subordinate.  And that's what has happened now.  

As McElwee reports, yesterday the law firm of Randles, Mata, & Brown issued formal allegations in its current suit against the diocese that the diocese has violated terms of a 2008 settlement between itself and 47 victims of sexual abuse.  Within hours after these allegations were issued, Finn removed his vicar general Msgr. Robert Murphy from his post and replaced him with Fr. Joseph Powers, rector of the diocesan co-cathedral of St. Joseph.

The formal allegations issued against the diocese by Randles, Mata, & Brown: when the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese settled in 2008 with 47 victims of sexual abuse, it pledged to put into place a series of commitments it would follow in handling allegations of clerical sexual abuse.  These included a promise to report sex abuse allegations to law enforcement "at the request of the victim" and to follow its own published guidelines for handling reports of sex abuse.

The law firm alleges that what the public has now learned through the cases of Fr. Shawn Ratigan and Fr. Michael Tierney indicates that the diocese has not adhered to the terms of the 2008 settlement.  Tierney was removed from ministry 3 June due to allegations of abuse of minors dating back to the 1970s and 1980s.  A 9 June report alleges that Murphy himself, who as vicar general has overseen allegations about abuse by priests, sexually harassed a young man in 1984.  That abuse was reported by the man making the allegations four years ago. 

So: a priest (Ratigan) is arrested on 19 May on charges of possessing child pornography five months after diocesan officials knew that Ratigan possessed the pornography; a priest (Tierney) is removed from ministry on 3 June when allegations against him date to the 1970s; and a priest (Murphy) has been overseeing abuse cases in the diocese after a report was filed against him four years ago re: an incident dating from 1984: here's the conclusion that Randles, Mata, & Brown reach on the basis of these findings,

Taken together, wrote Randles, the three cases show that "it appears the Diocese chose to step into the shoes of the Department of Family Services and law enforcement and internally handles suspicions with child sex crimes instead of turning the matter over to civil authorities."

And if they're correct, Finn is in a heap more trouble than scapegoating Murphy, or carrying Madonnas in procession and jangling rosaries, or doing a bit of Latin Mass juju can magically dispel.  He's in a legal situation involving secular laws and legal norms that he may well choose to ignore, and which he may well imagine don't apply to him as one anointed of God.

But I'm not sure the secular and criminal authorities who make and enforce those laws will agree with that judgment.  And I am sure that they shouldn't do so.

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