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Finn flayed.

Last week, Kansas City Detective Maggie McGuire was honored for her work on the troubling case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-laicized priest serving a fifty-year sentence for possessing and creating child pornography. Recall that in 2012 Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse--after diocesan personnel informed him that they had found pornographic photographs of minors on Ratigan's laptop and the bishop failed to notify police. Obviously Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter hasn't forgotten the details of that case, because when he presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to McGuire, he delivered a stinging rebuke to Finn and his diocese:

When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you.

He continued:

But for [McGuire's] work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain…a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse.

A judge sentenced Bishop Finn to two years of probation. He has not been censured by church authorities.


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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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This will not stop. What is O'Malley waiting for? No matter how astute Francis is he has to rely on staff in the field. It may be quite accurate to lay this on O'Malley now. No one, apparently, has the pope's ear more than the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston. After O'Malley Dolan and others have responsibility here. Even with a committe being established, can we afford to wait? What are they waiting for, "Dump Finn" stickers on cars??

The Finn case is already historic. The words of the Deputy US attorney are riveting. As well as a further shame and disgrace to Finn, Kansas and the Church. 

How Long?

I truly hope that O'Malley is working behind the scenes with Finn directly and that his resignation will happen soon. Certainly if he is still here by 2015, Francis reform and reputation will suffer greatly ... and somewhat deservedly.  

Fifty years in prison for Ratigan is too much. The sentence was too harsh, completely out of proportion. He should have spent a year or two in prison, then be release with the warning that if he could not stay away from little children, he would be sent back to prison for a long long time. 

As to "bishop" Finn, I am not sure what we can do. I'm just glad I am not in his diocese. If I were and wanted to stay Catholic, maybe I would focus on my parish and try to think of it as an independent entity, disconnected from his "authority". Maybe as a parish I would refuse to pay the diocesan tax and put the money instead in a separate bank account, to be handed over to the next bishop when there is one.

On the diocesan web page, although there are some documents on the "Statements" page, the page with the biography of Finn makes no menttion of his brush with the justice. To be forgotten as soon as possible, I guess. There is a recording of a "Forward in Faith" homily to encouarge people to give to the capital campaign, which is a homily in which Finn talks about Catholic education, about forming "critical thinkers", "spiritual defenders", and says:  "we are confronted with moral and ethical dilemmas and overt attempts to limit our religious liberty". The nerve! As an encouragement to give (I guess), he even mentions that he was formed in Catholic schools. Does he think his moral blindness and ethical incompetence have been forgotten already?

There is also a copy of his 2007 pastoral letter against pornography. Chapter 3, responding to the problem: "The first step is to name it". ... "The tactic we are advocating is only secondarily one of legislative advocacy against the purveyors of pornography". It's over 20 page long. In the light of what happened in the following couple of years, it reads like a mockery. He shows how empty words can be, how useless faith seems to be, how meaningless church "authority"  really is. He is a real challenge for Catholics.

As to "bishop" Finn, I am not sure what we can do. I'm just glad I am not in his diocese.

In Boston, one of the tipping points for Cardinal Law was when the priests of the archdiocese called for his resignation.  

The first paragraph of that document:

It is with a heavy heart that we write to request your resignation as Archbishop of Boston. We have valued the good work you have done here in Boston, including, but not limited to: your advocacy for the homeless, your outreach to the Jewish community, your opposition to capital punishment, and your leadership in welcoming immigrant peoples. However, the events of recent months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston.




Taking lewd pictures of little girls is certainly a despicable act, especially for a priest. To be sentenced to 50 years in prison for taking such photos is arguably a miscarriage of justice. No sexual acts were depicted. There was no accusation of and no admission of touching or engaging in lewd acts with children. I agree with Clare that he should have been jailed for a few years and then placed on strict probation.

Bishop Finn was convicted of failing to report, but not on all counts submitted by the prosecutor. I am glad that I am not in his diocese. There apparently is a sufficient number of Catholics in his diocese that are willing to overlook and forgive since the operations of the church there have not been crippled by any stretch of that word. I think this is a matter to be dealt with by that local church in terms of what happens to Finn. If, in fact, he is not able to offer effective ministry he will have to resign or be removed. I would be delighted to learn of his resignation or removal. It would give that diocese a chance to start over on this painful issue. But I am unable to share the animus directed at him and Ratigan, especially during Holy Week. Resentments are killers but not for those resented and reviled. I do revile the actions of both.

  1. The pope approves the ordination of men to the episcopacy.
  2. The pope approves assignments fo bishops.
  3. The pope approves the imposition of liturgical norms upon bishops.
  4. The pope can censure a bishop who he thinks has stepped out of line.
  5. The pope can (and has done so) remove a bishop from active participation in the episcopacy.
  6. The pope can fire Finn's butt!

Now, that wasn't hard, was it? 

Jim: I am not the pope.


especially during Holy Week

John: yes. Looking again at the diocesan website scandalizes me all over again, but in a way I'd rather forget about him, especially during Holy Week. Let the locals deal with it. It's their problem (and the pope's).


Claire - if you track the timeline for Ratigan, his actions pre and post his meeting with Finn, you note that he did not tell Finn the complete truth and was put into treatment for a suicide attempt.  When he returned to the diocese, he was allowed to live in the Vincentian Mission house under certain restrictions.  He violated those restrictions within weeks.

The psychological profession, at the current time, has no sure fire solution or fix for personalities such as Ratigan.  He is always at high risk of recidivism.  Probably the only thing that would work is *chemical* castration which is not permitted in most states.

Also, Finn and the diocese has already demonstrated that they are not able to monitor Ratigan - they have neither the time nor the expertise.  Alternatives - guess you could arrange living in a monastery but then the monastery or abbey assumes the risk and responsibility.

Recent case in Wisconsin involving a Chicago priest - asked for release (using your language) but the court remanded him permanently to a secure psychiatric facility.

Claire - if I can add, Ratigan also lied and deceived his own family - his actions actually caused them to be frightened that he may have molested his own nieces/nephews.  He used his own family.

Bill, I still think the sentence is way too harsh. You say that there is a high risk of recidivism, but what kind of recidivism ? Taking more lewd pictures of little children? As John said, it's despicable, but it's not the crime of the century. He is not a murderer or a rapist. I don't think the risk to society is grave enough to justify keeping  someone behind bars forever.

One of the most urgent -- and neglected -- questions of stewardship in the Catholic Church today is the oversight and selection of men for the priesthood.

Once you've ordained a man with a pathology, he's yours for life. You've bought his problem... and the whole Church will pay for it, over, and over, and over again. 

We need to turn this flow off at the spigot, by involving a broader spectrum of people and bringing relevant expertise into screening candidates. Many of them are walking time bombs. Putting all the emphasis on excising them later, reporting to police, laicizing them etc, when much too little attention is paid to the front end of the assembly line is crazy. 

People who work with psychological cases know this. There are no easy fixes. And the system cannot afford to carry as many cases as it has on its hands. Yet these bishops won't say No.

We've seen it again and again... no matter how troubled a man is, he'll get thrown out of one seminary, and just go and find another bishop who will ordain him. Bishops will take anyone who's male and promises celibacy; otherwise the bar is low, and eyes are averted from whatever personal problems he brings with him. It's not true in the religious orders, but diocesan priesthood is now a seller's market.

"We need to turn this flow off at the spigot, by involving a broader spectrum of people and bringing relevant expertise into screening candidates."

I think the biggest help to this would be doing away with madatory celibacy. A job that promises enforced celibacy for life might tend to attract a larger than average percentage of people who have sexual/emotional problems.  The main difference between the Catholic church and the Protestant churches is celibacy, and it can't be a coincidence that there is something like 6 times the sexual abuse in the Catholic church as there is in other churches ...


Rita wisely names one of the primary issues. 

Crystal - agree but would broaden the whole discussion.  Many experts in the area of sexual abuse have stated that celibacy requirement is a contributor to this issue.  They may not say that *celibacy causes abuse* but, OTOH, they would not absolve celibacy. 

The last Vatican audit of US seminaries strongly underlined the use of psychological testing - unfortunately, this needs to be done numerous times over the course of the seminary training and experts (not clerics) need to be invovled.

Some other issues:

- many religious orders had implemented psych testing as far back as the 1970s and yet, some of the largest US seminaries have only just move to this

- lack of vocations:  creates a disincentive to stop guys from ordination;  the increase in the Redemptoris Maris models which take guys that have education gaps, 1st generation; english as second language, cultural differences, etc. inadequately prepares men for the priesthood (again, prressure that they move through the system and be ordained rather than provide numerous internships; challenges to work with diverse groups, etc.);  too many seminaries continue to lack any type of female input - either as teachers, formation directors, or lay groups that supervise interns.  (so, a change in celibacy might impact this)

- would strongly support an agenda item at the USCCB that has been stuck for years....they are looking at regional seminaries that would have the best formation and education staffs possible for all priestly candidates....this would alleviate the small seminary that lacks the resources, trained and experienced staff.

Criminal justice sentencing serves two purposes: 1) Retribution; 2) Deterrence.


I think that the sentence reflects a few things. One, a fairly certain view that there was sexual acts that likely occurred but were not reported in court open or otherwise. I know that might not seem fair but a judge and DA looking at that have to weigh bringing in children that may retraumatize them. Also, molestation, we know is waaaaay under-reported.

Secondly, photos are not benign and most professionals in the forensic area understand this. In fact, Google and most other search engines already cooperate in not permitting child pornography. The google lawyer writes

Since 2008, we have used “hashing” technology to tag known child sexual abuse images, allowing us to identify duplicate images which may exist elsewhere. Each offending image in effect gets a unique fingerprint that our computers can recognize without humans having to view them again. Recently, we have started working to incorporate these fingerprints into a cross-industry database

So, this means that it is actually difficult to find child pornography and these are well monitored so offenders know this. In light of this, taking pictures, is thus is a very concerning phenomenon as access is limited so he actually set up the conditions so that he could have photos of his own to masturbate to. In order for this to continue, he is going to require access to children. Bottom line this was likely an ongoing pattern that even if not crminal was noted in case files, histories, and interviews. There was a lot more context to the sentencing than appears at first glance.

Prevention of childhood sexual exploitation is a community affair and google is doing its part. We, as a society, need to come to a consensus around ethical sexual behaviour and most agree that markers need to be applied. Judges are given wide latitude in sentencing and heavy penalties are permitted. That the judge selected this says something about his concern and the need for deterrance. The headline should ready Man gets 50 years for child pornography. Deterrance works and strategically stigmatizing certain behaviours is effective. Look at the reduction in drunk driving due to heavy penalties and vigorous enforcement.

Bill, yes I agree - I don't think celibacy causes abuse. A confluence of factors.

I object to the many comments that centers on celibacy and.or sexual abuse as central. While these can be problem areas it is not the major issue. The majority of clergy and religious are not pedophiles. But they are mediocre. They live too comfortably and are tepid. They live better than those they serve---with perks that most of their parishioners do not have. Mediocrity is the problem. The emphasis is on doctrine not behavior. On Empire rather than preaching the gospel to the poor. You know. Letting the blind see and the sick heal. 

Fior those who think Ratigan's sentence of 50 years was "too harsh" keep in mind that he did not simply possess child pornography -  he was cCreating child pornography.

I've just suffered a bit of intellectual and spiritual whiplash, going from Finn, Rattigan, and child pornography directly to Pope Francis' Holy Thursday homily:


"The priest is the poorest of men unless Jesus enriches him by his poverty, the most useless of servants unless Jesus calls him his friend, the most ignorant of men unless Jesus patiently teaches him as he did Peter, the frailest of Christians unless the Good Shepherd strengthens him in the midst of the flock. No one is more “little” than a priest left to his own devices; and so our prayer of protection against every snare of the Evil One is the prayer of our Mother: I am a priest because he has regarded my littleness (cf. Lk 1:48). And in that littleness we find our joy."


I'm still hopeful!

And I'm joyful that Mark is finding hope, here on the brink of the Triduum.  May all of us do the same, somehow.  If life can spring from death, even God's death, then maybe it is not impossible that a new springtime of holiness and love for the priesthood and the church is budding.  

Every bishop who moved a sexual abuser priest should be forced, by the Vatican, to resign.


Meanwhile, the US Bishops have a page on "the myths of the sex abuse crisis" ...

Myth: Bishops cover up abuse and hide priests from the law

Fact: Dioceses are required to report all cases to the local law enforcement agencies. Failing to report known abuse is a crime. Victims and their families are encouraged to report abuse directly to police. Each diocese is required to have a victim assistance coordinator and a diocesan review board to review the allegations and make recommendations to the bishop.

Meanwhile, the US Bishops have a page on "the myths of the sex abuse crisis" ...

Disappointing, isn't it? When I first read it I thought it was old - but then saw it was posted just a couple of days ago. 

No point to posting there to ask if the misleading statements are really true. If you try, you get a message "Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author."

More troubling, it's written by the President of the National Review Board. 



Yes, it makes me think of The X-Files ... "deny everything."   Sigh  :(

Another one of the myths:

Myth: Child sexual abuse occurs only in the Catholic Church

This is classic misdirection, presenting and rebutting a charge that no sane person is making, so that other, more troublesome allegations will seem equally ridiculous. It is a species of dishonesty, and it calls into question all of the other information that it appears with.

It is a species of bad faith.

I wish it were possible to tune incidents like this out during the course of Holy Week but it isn't. The church's continued sufferance of Finn's current stature is inexplicable. 

Meanwhile, the US Bishops have a page on "the myths of the sex abuse crisis" ...

I entered a comment asking that the statement about bishops implementing the Dallas charter be prefaced by "With the exception of the diocese of Lincoln (Nebraska)". We will see if it ever shows up.

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