Monday, April 27, 2015

Bishop Robert's Finn's Criminal Conviction, and What Crystallizes the Anger of Lay Catholics About the Abuse Crisis (Hint: It's All About Clericalism)

Here's a letter from the heart I have written (by email) this morning to an e-friend, a very good person, who had emailed me to add to the chorus of those who pointed out that my reference to Bishop Robert Finn several days ago as a convicted felon is not technically correct: Bishop Finn was convicted for a misdemeanor, not a felony. The friend who emailed me about this is ordained, and I cannot help but be struck by the fact that those who have picked at this point are all ordained, all clergymen.

My friend tells me that those defending the use of the term "felony" to apply to Finn's crime in shielding a known pedophile and keeping children in harm's way by keeping that priest in ministry have an agenda. My friend also appears to think that convicting priests of crimes of child molestation and of endangering children's well-being is counter-productive, not a way of healing their pedophilia (I myself don't think pedophilia is curable), and is premised on vengefulness and not love.

Here's my response to these observations in an email this morning:

I suspect we all have agendas. And, though I don't have children of my own, I can understand and empathize with the agenda of seeing children protected from child molesters—and the outrage of so many Catholics that this concern seems to have been far down the list of concerns for the hierarchy and the clerical club, as the abuse crisis in the Catholic church came to light.

The frustration I think many lay Catholics feel is that we keep discovering that what seems to us the obvious top priority here—keeping children out of harm's way—is not really even on the radar screen of many in the clerical club, whose fundamental instinct is to make excuses for each other and protect each other from exposure and prosecution. The anger of lay Catholics builds, I think, and understandably so, as we see these concerns playing out within the clerical system, and find ourselves talked down to in a bizarre way about the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor—a very strange, insubstantial, diversionary straw to clutch at in this disucssion, it seems to me.

Bishop Finn crystallizes this for many of us. It's not his Opus Dei affiliation that triggers so much anger among so many Catholics. It's his truculent, oblivious choice to keep a man in ministry after child pornography was found on his computer, and to keep that man in contact with children, putting them in harm's way.

Our anger grows when we see that the state gets the problem, and is willing to sentence him for his crime, while the clerical club continues—astonishingly—to protect him and to allow him to sit on his episcopal throne for several years after his criminal conviction. It seems to me natural that, under such circumstances, people will be inclined to endorse harsh criminal punishment that may be, as you say, not entirely effective, if any kind of remediation is our goal. But it is effective in doing what the leaders of the church so frequently refuse to do: removing a child molester from any possible contact with children. 

I really do think it's the clueless clericalism of the church that has produced these unfortunate either-or alternatives for many of us, and that no real solution to these problems can ever occur until the clericalism is dismantled to the very ground. If that's an agenda, then I suppose I have it myself, as a lay Catholic who finds the clericalism simply revolting.

(Please see this footnote to the preceding posting.)

The screenshot of the announcement of Finn's conviction on KSHB news in Kansas City is from this World News Network article.

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