That would be "Bishop-In-Name-Only." I ask because NCR's Joshua McElwee dug into a seemingly boilerplate announcement of "canonical assignments" posted at the newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on Friday afternoon and discovered that Bishop Robert Finn had shifted -- apparently -- some of his authority to a newly-created "Episcopal Vicar with Special Mandate," who is Fr. Patrick Rush.The move was made in anticipation of Bishop Finn's trial this fall in Jackson County on charges of failing to report one of his priests, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, who was suspected of possessing child pornography and perhaps of abusing children.Finn has already signed away some of his authority in Clay County (another part of the diocese) on sex abuse and personnel policies in order to avoid trial on similar charges there. (See Nicholas Cafardi's "A Cherished Accommodation" [subscribers only].) Friday's announcement also transferred another official tainted by the Ratigan case.This latest move ceding his authority is intended, Finn says, to avoid even the appearance of conflict concerning the juridical affairs of the diocese" as the trial approaches:

Fr. Rush will provide independent representation, deliberation, and decision-making with executive power concerning the criminal charge against the Diocese...The appointment carries the authority to make decisions independently of the bishop and will expire upon resolution of the case involving the Diocese.

This seems to raise more questions than it answers, apart from being a highly unusual move for a bishop, whose authority is subject only to the pope. Is this a question of razing a village to save it? Who really runs the show now? Are we really to believe that Fr. Rush will be calling the shots without Finn's input? Is Bp. Finn the Sean Payton of the U.S. hierarchy? And in what ways does this resolve conflict of interest? What are those conflicts, in term of the criminal case? The fact that the diocese will pay for his defense team? What will Bishop Finn still be doing?My biggest question, and the biggest question for Finn and Pope Benedict, however, would be what they will do should Finn be convicted. Would Finn leave, or be pushed?

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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