Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Stakes in the Case of Bishop Finn: Frank Cocozzelli's Analysis

Bishop Finn's Cappa Magna

At both Talk to Action and Open Tabernacle right now, Frank Cocozzelli offers powerful (and cogent) analysis of precisely what's at stake in the exercised reaction of the Catholic right to the criminal indictment of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph.  Finn is under indictment because he contravened Missouri law by failing to report Father Shawn Ratigan's possession of child pornography to legal authorities after it came to his attention that Ratigan had child pornography on his computer.  Instead of reporting Ratigan, Finn chose, in fact, to shield him and to move him about, where Ratigan remained in contact with children for months after Finn knew he had child pornography on his computer.

Frank notes that Finn is a member of the secretive, powerful, and well-heeled Catholic group Opus Dei, which is thought to have considerable influence within the governments of a number of nations.  As an Opus Dei bishop, he's part of a network of bishops who belong to the group, including Nicholas DiMarzio in Brooklyn and John Myers in Newark.

These Opus Dei bishops are closely aligned with other strongly reactionary bishops that Rome has placed in key sees in cities with liberal-progressive political and cultural tendencies, including Robert Morlino in Madison, Wisconsin, Timothy Dolan in New York, and Charles Chaput in Philadelphia.  There seems, Frank notes, to be a deliberate strategy on the part of Rome to place strongly reactionary bishops in such places, to counter the influence of liberal-progressive political and cultural ideas.

And so the Catholic right, including Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, has gone to bat for Finn, though the charges against him are unambiguous and they're defending the indefensible in defending a bishop who broke the law to shield a priest possessing child porn and allowed him continued contact with children.  The network of arch-conservative bishops that Rome has carefully created in American Catholicism is too important to the Catholic right to permit one of its key members to face criminal charges without a fight--and without the attempt to create a smokescreen that hides from the public precisely what Finn has done and his guilt.

Frank concludes: 

Losing Finn as a bishop would be a setback for the movement of ultra-orthodox, ultra-conservative voices in positions of authority in the Church. Indeed it would be a blow to one of the Catholic Right’s most powerful tools, pure servile fear; the fear that does not derive from respect but from retribution. But if public pressure forces the Church as well as the state to act against Finn, it would be a victory for mainstream Catholics and to all citizens, who expect the law to be equally applied in protecting people from criminal predators. And that would be a blow to their vision of a Church that seeks to define not only what the law will be for others, but to stand above and apart from it themselves. 
For Catholic conservatives who value authority over the protection of children, and rightist political and economic orthodoxy over the historic social justice teachings of the Church, this is a battle of historic consequence.

A battle of historic consequence: Frank's exactly right, I think.  When one frames what is happening in this battle as Frank does (and he does so rightly), it's actually a battle for the soul of a church--a battle between those who would place authority (and the inculcation of servile fear among a laity reduced to passivity) above the well-being of children; and a battle between those who serve the rich and powerful and are willing to ditch Catholic social teaching to do so, and those who promote authentic Catholic social teaching, which requires us to think first and foremost of the least among us as we make political and economic decisions.

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