Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bill Tammeus's Open Letter to Pope Francis about Bishop Finn, and More on St. Paul-Minneapolis and Archbishop Nienstedt

Bill Tammeus's open letter to Pope Francis at National Catholic Reporter this week is excellent: he writes to Francis as a brother in Christ, stating,

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI should have told [Bishop Robert] Finn [of Kansas City] to resign immediately upon conviction, if not before. His failure to do so means the ball is in your court. And the longer it stays there without your response, the more it damages the church both Finn and you love.

The conviction to which Tammeus refers is Finn's criminal conviction a year ago on charges of having placed children at risk for having failed to report a priest in his charge who possessed child pornography. Tammeus has a vested interest in the Finn story because he himself is a Presbyterian elder, and he lives in Kansas City. 

Meanwhile, the calls from within the archdiocese of another U.S. bishop under fire for allegedly having failed to deal with priests who pose a danger to minors continue. continue. As Madeleine Baran reports for Minnesota Public Radio, this past Sunday yet another pastor in the archdiocese, Rev. Stephen O'Gara, spoke out about the crisis in the archdiocese.

O'Gara delivered his comments in a homily last Sunday, in which he called on Archbishop Nienstedt to "stand before us and explain himself." At the end of the homily, the parish community applauded. An audio of the homily is at YouTube.

On the same day in which O'Gara called for Nienstedt to "stand before us and explain himself," Ruben Rosario published an op-ed statement in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in which he says that if Nienstedt expects to retrieve the trust of local Catholics, he'll have to come clean. He'll have to demonstrate transparency and not just mime it at the urging of adroit, expensive image-management consultants who tell CEOs how to look humble and transparent while they do the opposite.

Minnesota SNAP director Bob Schwiderski concurs: he notes that top archdiocesan officials are responding to the current crisis by behaving with the same secrecy and lack of transparency that got the archdiocese into its mess in the first place. And as it comes out that the head of Nienstedt's crisis-management team, Rev. Reginald Whitt, has written that the task force dealing with abuse cases in the archdiocese will have access to information only as he chooses to dispense it, Barbara Dorris of SNAP calls on the task-force team to resign.

Madeleine Baran and Tom Scheck reported for MPR on Whitt's statement earlier in the week. As Brian Roewe notes later for National Catholic Reporter, Whitt is now maintaining that, though he had previously stated that all files about priests accused of abuse will be in his "control," he'll provide all information the task-force team needs in order to do its job.

It's a royal mess, and one we American Catholics have seen over and over again in diocese after diocese: cover-ups are revealed, top diocesan officials respond with insincere apologies for their lack of oversight and then go into spin control. And nothing seems to change. Not ever. We await the next such gut-churning drama down the road, knowing full well that there certainly will be another drama of the same ilk, since no one is overseeing the overseers. No one except those at the very top of the church have any power at all to demand transparency and accountability.

No one can make Bishop Robert Finn do the right thing and vacate his episcopal seat except the pope himself, as Bill Tammeus notes. As Professor Patrick Parkinson recently maintained in his Smith Lecture in Sydney, Australia, as long as there continues to be the perception among the leaders of the Catholic church that they are and should be a law unto themselves in dealing with abuse reports, not much will change.

Which tells me Bill Tammeus is right to lob the ball of Finn's continuing episcopal status squarely into the court of Pope Francis. And that those of us watching what the pope chooses to do (or not, as the case may be) with the abuse situation in the church are correct to conclude that Francis's response to this situation will prove the litmus test of his papacy.

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