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Bishop Finn bobs and weaves

This is not going to end well, even if Bishop Finn gets off. Coverage of a motion to dismiss, via Reuters:

In a preview to the upcoming trial of Bishop Robert Finn of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a lawyer for Finn asked Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence to dismiss the charge against him because he said there was another Diocese official who should have reported the priest to police."Bishop Finn had no statutory duty to report. We believe that this is clear," said attorney J.R. Hobbs in arguing for Judge Torrence to dismiss the case against Finn.Judge Torrence said he would take the matter under advisement and likely rule on the matter next week.Bishop Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic leader to face criminal charges in the United States related to alleged abuse by a priest.His case marks what some observers see as a key turning point in assigning accountability to an organization that has a long history of protecting priests who abuse children.The priest in this case, Father Shawn Ratigan, has been charged with 13 counts of child pornography, some of which he kept on a church computer, and is jailed awaiting trial.Bishop Finn and others in the Diocese became aware of the pictures in December 2010 but Finn never made an official report to authorities even though he did send Ratigan for psychological evaluation and ordered him to stay away from children.Another Diocese official finally reported the situation to police in May 2011.

Finn's lawyers argue that Monsignor Robert Murphy was the "designated reporters" so Bp. Finn did not have the technical legal responsibility. Perhaps that argument could work legally, and the bishop has hired a team of the best lawyers in the state. But will that fly in the court of public opinion?PS: Mark Silk notes that in the similarly-themed Philadelphia trial of Msgr. William Lynn, the guy who oversaw priests for the archdiocese there and is accused of covering up abuse cases, defense lawyers are taking the opposite tack and saying Lynn should be excused because the archbishop was where the buck stopped:

Lawyers do what lawyers are paid to do, of course, and in these cases it is to get their clients off the criminal hook. But it's hard to imagine a better way to drive Catholics further away from the church than by such denials and shifting of responsibility. Sure, over the past decade many apologies have been made and new rules and vetting procedures put in place. What's clear from Philadelphia and Kansas City, however, is that when push comes to shove, the apologies can turn out to be lip service and the rules are honored in the breach.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Professor Silk has some good and pointed comments about the shirking of accountability, both by Bishop Finn and Msgr. Lynn's defense that Cardinal Bevilacqua was the puppet master of the Philadelphia cover-up:

While I would agree there could be troubling aspects to the potential defense strategies, why don't we wait to see the actual trial before rushing to judgment, as I believe Mark Silk has with:"Whats clear from Philadelphia and Kansas City, however, is that when push comes to shove, the apologies can turn out to be lip service and the rules are honored in the breach."If we've learned anything about the fiasco in Florida, it's that we should wait until we know all the facts before making sweeping statements.

These 'it was the other guys' defense did not work at Nuremberg.

Always wait til the facts are on.... minimize on the defense side while greedy lawyers(isn't that the phrase the hierrachy uses to attack victim attorneys?) defend the hierachs who pay them handsomely.We say we're about honesty, accountability , no more secrecy etc. but use any technaclity -Finn knew admittedly but wasn't THE designated reporter - a nice technicality -but, wait til the facts are in?Lynn's letters to parishoners about Avery having no problems were read into evidence yesterday -but he was just following orders- wait til the facts are in.(I though tabout Hennenverger;s writing on sexual assault at Notre Dame and the many comments on line there from NG alumna backing up the cultural problem -and the high powered attorney's response ripping Ms. Henneberger).Wait til the facts are in indeed!The real lesson ought to be that innocent victims of crime especialy women and children are not expendable to the technaclities of institutional protection!!!!!!!

Bishop Finn is in charge and responsible for every Catholic group, org, school, employee, priest, office worker, etc. in his territory. He is the boss and he makes the final decisions.Isn't it interesting that in KC-St Joe diocese the bishop is blaming the vicar general, yet in Philly Archdiocese the vicar general is blaming the bishop?ALL who covered up sex crimes against innocent kids need to be held accountable, and Bishop Finn needs to be held accountable for his crimes by the law of the land.Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511 "Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests" and all clergy.(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers and increasingly, victims who were assaulted in a wide range of institutional settings like summer camps, athletic programs, Boy Scouts, etc. Our website is

It would seem to me that as the bishop of the diocese Finn is responsible for all aspects of "running the church." If he had, say, received a mandate from Rome to do a study on "xyz" and to report back you can be sure that, even if he delegated to someone else to compile the information, the report would be in Rome in a very timely manner. And if the report was not done on time Rome woujld be calling FINN and no one else. So, while there may have been a "designated" person, the bottom line is that the bishop is responsible for the inner runnings of the church, and therefor is responsible to be sure the report to local authorities was done in a timely manner.

I hope Principal Julie Hess of St. Patrick School gets a bit of honor out the Finn mess. In May 2010, she wrote for herself and concerned teachers and parents to the responsible Church authorities to tell them their subordinate - Ratigan - was a hazard to children and required their attention and action. It hadn't taken state laws and investigations and trials for the adults to identify an evident behavioral threat to the children for whom Hess was responsible. If she made a mistake, it was to trust the bishop and vicar to act appropriately on behalf of her schoolful of children. The trial shows what accountability means to the clerics involved, 10 years after Dallas.

"Isnt it interesting that in KC-St Joe diocese the bishop is blaming the vicar general, yet in Philly Archdiocese the vicar general is blaming the bishop?"When in wonder, when in doubtRun in circles, scream and shout.And Catholic loyalists STILL won't accept that the ever-increasing desertion of this church by so many people is based on the reality that it is a sick, sad, self-deluding clerical-dominated organization. Those laity who refuse to wake up and demand change deserve to suffer the consequences. Remember the 11th commandment: Thou Shalt NOT Fund Fools and Fiends.

Bp Finn and those like him need to remember Harry Truman's axiom: The buck stops here.These people make me want to vomit.

I'm not surprised that Bishop Finn's lawyer made that motion.But I will be surprised if the judge grants the motion.

While Canon Law means little in the civil system and requires experts to interpret, one is interesting for the two cases of current interest: "Can. 480 -- A vicar general and an episcopal vicar must report to the diocesan bishop concerning the more important affairs which are to be handled or have been handled, and they are never to act contrary to the intention and mind of the diocesan bishop." How the mind-melding is to accomplished is not specified.

Fascinating canon law reference, Jack Barry. I do wonder whether that could be cited in the case. It seems possible, if Finn tries to argue that he wasn't responsible within the ambit of ecclesiastical governance. From what I know having a "designated reporter" doesnt really absolve others of their responsibility, and besides, Finn has acknowledged he was in the loop on all this stuff. It seems he'd have to produce evidence that he ordered the monisignor to report and the monsignor disobeyed him.

In the Philly trial, the lawyer is arguing that Msgr Lynn took action to prevent abuse but his recommendations were not heeded by his higher ups. The memo Lynn complied with the list of possibly abusive priests was sent up the chain of command, ending up with Bevilacqua, who ultimately quashed it. But along the way, the memo went to Lynn's boss, Joseph Cistone (now Bishop of Saginaw), I think this implicates Cistone now as well in this cover up.

The designated reporter did eventually report the priest in question.So if the designated reporter disobeyed Bishops Finn, the designated reporter was not disobeying an order to report the priest in question, because that was done.But the timeliness of the report could be an issue here.But did the designated reporter delay reporting the priest in question, contrary to Bishop Finn's explicit order to report the priest immediately? But in this imagined scenario, Bishop Finn would have to produce evidence that he ordered the priest to be reported immediately.

Let's finally not forget that Bil Donahue, close confidnant of the head of USCCB, made major arracks on SNAP and sought their records be brought forward.I repeat we we say nice words aboutr caring for victims, accountability, etc. but credibility is sorely lacking.

" -- we say nice words aboutr caring for victims, accountability, etc. --"In other words: don't expect us to do what we say. That's for other folks.Credibility, indeed.

Bishop Finn's first pastoral letter may be interesting if it shows up in court. He established his expertise on the pornography problem before the Ratigan incident. His letter was the 20-page Blessed are the Pure in Heart: A Pastoral Letter on the Dignity of the Human Person and the Dangers of Pornography (2/21/07). It was written at the request of the diocesan Anti-Pornography Task Force he established in 2005. Chaput's Archbishops Column of the Denver Archdiocesan website warmly praised it: Bishop Finns excellent pastoral letter . has a wealth of good information about the scope of pornography, the damage it does and many practical tips to fighting it in our homes. Presumably it was meant for other people.

Both the Philly and the KC gambits continue to highlight the actual issue per retired Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at a speech in Chicago:"The roots of the decades-long clergy sex abuse scandal lie not in any set of rules or practices, but are found deep in the culture of the church itself.The "major fault" of the church in the scandal, Robinson said, is that it "refuses to look at any teaching, law, practice or even attitude of the church itself as in any way contributing" to the crisis. "In studying abuse, we must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads rather than impose in advance the limitation that our study must not demand change in any teaching or law," he continued. "We must admit that there might be elements of the 'Catholic culture' that have contributed either to the abuse or to the poor response to abuse.'""With authority goes responsibility," Robinson said. "Pope John Paul many times claimed the authority, and he must accept the responsibility. The most basic task of a pope is surely to be the 'rock' that holds the church together, and by his silence in the most serious moral crisis facing the church in our times, the pope failed in this basic task." And note the typical response from the currea letter Monday from Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron to the priests of the Detroit archdiocese asked they not attend Robinson's talk Tuesday."I would discourage your attendance at this presentation and ask that you share my concerns with anyone you know who is planning or considering to attend," writes Vigneron in the letter, which was obtained by NCR.

And another added note: per the KC lawyers for Finn, they are stating the the actual reporting reg applied to his vicar and his lay review board: ".....Finn claims Vicar General Robert Murphy and a diocese review board not the bishop were responsible for reporting suspected images of child pornography to the state."Understand that in this whole, sad episode, Finn and Murphy hid or never gave its lay review board any information about Ratigan. Thus, how could the lay board be responsible for reporting" It is a nonsense - if Finn or Murphy chooses to withhold or hide evidence or allegations, then the board can't report and thus, nothing happens.Read it here:

A well-placed priest in the diocese, and no basher of Robert Finn to be sure, told me that this bishop keeps his own counsel on clergy affairs. In 2005-08, there were ... interesting personnel decisions with a few clergy that left some wondering, including a few loyal to the bishop. My sense is that Bishop Finn is a 1950's prelate: earnest, pious, dry, a tad awkward, and naively confident that the Church can be remade in the fashion of a rosier, happier era. I suspect that abuser-addicts are able to play him like a fiddle. Shawn Ratigan went from suicidal back to stalking kids in just three months, despite his "supervisor" getting "tough" on him. A guy like Robert Finn might have made a good pastor--he's no dummy. But he'd need about two decades of seasoning in pastoral work, especially in a big parish.I know Msgr Murphy; I've worked with him. He strikes me as a sensible man, in contrast a quite experienced pastor. Even as a VG, I can certainly posit that his counsel would fall on deaf ears. It did on other personnel matters. He's also loyal to a fault, and unfortunately, I could see him taking the fall for this.

An extraordinary variety of changes in diocesan personnel and programs that Bp. Finn made in his first year in office as bishop in 2005 are described in .

Why don't KC parents make an effort to find out what children Fr Ratigan had sex with under Bishop Finn's watch?The children will never come forward and say anything.Catholic pedophile priests always tell the children that they will get in trouble if they say anything. Ratigan definitely had sex with at least a few KC children, but KC Catholic parents are too afraid of their priests and bishops to ask.Every child who was around Ratigan should be questioned.Catholic parents just don't care about child rape.

As far as I know, the main charge against Fr. Ratigan involved photographs that he took of children, evidently unbeknownst to them. He stored the photos on his computer.

Cardinal Dolan and others appear horrified at the prospect that his old Riglali co-protege from St.Louis, Opus Dei's Finn, will be convicted. Once one US bishop is convicted, an understandable fear of a deluge of bishop prosecutions arises. It is telling that Bill Donohue made a massive recent effort to intimidate the Kansas City Star for its full and continuous reporting on the Finn case.In Philly, it appears tome to be going as follows. Archbishop Chaput pays Lynn's lawyers fees. Who pays the piper, call the tune. The prior Philly judge warned Lynn to get a lawyer who was not paid by Chaput---too many conflicts. One of Chaput's main lawyers is a law partner of the former PA governor and former head of the US Democratic Party. He is close to Obama, who appoints Federal judges. The current Philly state court judge, who once worked for the former PA governor, has reportedly expressed a strong interest in a Federal judgeship. The current Philly DA appears to be a politically ambitious Democrat. The Philly criminal case resulted from a grand jury called by a maverick Philly DA, Lynne Abraham, who is now retired from government service and is mostly out of the picture.Against this backdrop, Lynn's lawyerseeks to blame dead Bevilacqua and his old subordinates who may now be protected by the statute of limitations. This "blame the boss" defense is legally ineffective, but good public relations strategy for Chaput. It's "just a rehashing of old abuse news about guys long since gone" is the theme. Lynn may not realize all of this, but his legal case was mainly over months ago given the overwhelming evidence against him.A principal benefit of this evident strategy is that it takes the media lights off of still powerful Cardinal Riglai, a long time close colleague of two popes. Rigali was boss in Philly for almost a decade until a few months ago. Two criminal grand juries happened on his watch. A copy of the famous memo about Bevilacqua's abuse document shredding was apparently suppressed until recently on Rigali's watch.My bleak prediction: Rigali will get a pass. Chaput will get a red hat. In due course, the Philly DA will move up politically and the current judge will get a Federal judgeship. The Philly criminal investigation will end. And sadly, many defenseless Philly children will remain at grave risk.Some of you will claim I am being too cynical and conspiratorial. I wish that were the case. But in light of my decades of lawyering and the already 100,000+ American abuse victims to date (Vatican's own recent estimate), this in my view is the most likely scenario.

Jerry, my prediction is equally bleak. European prelates were weak and ineffective against the forces of warmongering in 19th/20th century Europe. The US faces a similar challenge with the cover-up scandal today. In the long run, this will go much worse for American bishops as long as they remain on this trajectory. Crimes against children, and conspiracy to hide them will taint this succession of bishops as long as they continue the hard line. The Temple Police will get their wish for a smaller Church. But purity is a matter of grace, not of personal resolve or even conservative ideology, as events show us time and time again.For it to end, bishops will need to get serious about contrition. They could do worse than to jettison their lawyers, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Catholic laity. Americans are very forgiving of criminals--notice Mike Vick and Martha Stewart. And who knows? Robert Finn could end up like a Richard Nixon in the end. More likely, the Jovial One, the Catechetical One, and their confreres will continue on their current path, wringing hands, lamenting the issue-of-the-month like it's a rotation of parish societies sponsoring pancake breakfasts and the fish fry. The most crucial issue still stares them in the face: loss of credibility.

" The most crucial issue still stares them in the face: loss of credibility. "And ever-increasing loss of membership among the young, women and disaffected others.Sooner or later the diminishing coffers will begin to have a very negative effect.

I think the Philly DA is pretty courageous; as a Catholic himself this is not a great situation for him to be in. I believe he is the person who actually brought the charges against the defendants.Also, I have to say, while I am not an admirer of Archbishop Chaput, he inherited a real mess in Philly and, while it's early days, he is doing a pretty good job cleaning things up. He just created an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council which is majority lay people and quite diverse (one member is Rocco Palmo, who I assume is the blogger). He is doing a lot to clean up their fiscal mess and he has managed, with help from generous donors, to keep open a number of high schools slated to close.

What stunned me a little in the article Jack Barry linked to is, not that Finn made such sweeping changes, but that one man could make such massive changes so quickly, dismantling decades of work in months. That's a structural problem, that any one person has that much power.

Such is life in an autocracy. Until the faithful exercise their voice and their pocketbooks to change the Church's structures of governance, the situation will not change.

Irene - many bishops act in the exact same way; it just doesn't make the press - understand that Finn is in the same diocese as NCR.Other examples in the past few years - Vasa in Oregon; George in Chicago; Belleville, IL, etc.On a smaller scale, this type of wholesale transition takes place all the time in parishes throughout the US depending upon the style of the new pastor.

Thanks, BillI would posit we are now seeing another major point in the US Chujrch, viz. it wil be more and more evident to those trying to be moderate, hold it together, overcome the division, dialogue with the reactionaries, wil see that leadership - policy makers - are uninterested in that but will more and more care about their "rights", status, , etc.Pious words and reflections will continue, lovely words about care for vistims, for example, but the same hardball will increase against SNAP and victim groups and SOL legislation.It's almost time to hear the Scripture about having the mind of Christ who emptied Himself even unto death.What we get is more and more self service.

" Such is life in an autocracy. Until the faithful exercise their voice and their pocketbooks to change the Churchs structures of governance, the situation will not change. "The 11th commandment is, and remains: Thou Shalt NOT Fund Fools and Fiends. Do so at your own peril.

Trpotyed yesterday -the court says Finn must stand trial -trial date is late September.

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