Archive for May, 2011

Former Kansas City Star publisher and now New York Times public editor Art Brisbane took his paper to the woodshed Sunday in an Op-Ed piece about The Times’ increasing tendency to get caught up in (or pulled down into) entertainment and gossip-scene coverage.

As public editor, Brisbane is accountable essentially to no one at The Times: He is free to write as he sees fit about what he thinks the nation’s premier paper does well and what he sees as its shortcomings. He can only be fired for 1) not writing or 2) violating the paper’s code of ethics.

Surely, one of the last things that many reporters and editors at The Times want to see in their e-mail in-box is a memo from Brisbane asking them to explain why they wrote this story or that story or why they approached it the way they did.


On Sunday, Brisbane took on not just one or two stories but an increasing, overall tilt toward covering gossip-related material. Brisbane opened his story with this brilliant lead:

“The culture is headed for the curb, and The New York Times is on the story.”

He cited, among others, a recent article about the media coverage of the women in the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn cases and a story about “pay-to-play” tabloid journalism in the digital age.

Brisbane said in his piece that he can appreciate the newspaper’s attempt to walk a fine line between maintaining its “dignified brand” and covering events and culture “wherever they may lead.”

But he chided the paper for including “the seamy stuff” in the Schwarzenegger/Strauss-Kahn story.

The seamy stuff included repeating an assertion made by the gossip website TMZ that the household staff member whom Schwarzenegger impregnated “decked herself out as a sexy swashbuckler for Halloween” a year before she gave birth to the boy.

The story also quoted a blogger on Forbes.com as having said that the housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena, “would never appear on the cover of Maxim magazine.”

By regurgitating lurid and derogatory statements, Brisbane said, “the story took a kind of anthropological approach, donning  latex gloves to report on how others were reporting the story — chronicling, as it were, others’ low standards.”

In other words, Brisbane implied,The Times wanted to appear to be including the juicy stuff, not for its prurient value, but to seemingly acquit itself of its duty to publish “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

Brisbane cited several other stories, which, he concluded, constituted “loitering at the edge of propriety.”

At the root of the increasing tendency of The Times to venture into the previously off-limits garden of gossip, he said, was “the strong tug on The Times and other mainstream news media to follow society, sometimes eagerly, to its fringes.”

And then, in his very measured and tasteful way, Brisbane delivered the hammer:

“My preference would be to see more restraint. True, other media are indulging in questionable journalism, and it is difficult to resist the downward revision of standards. But The Times could just as easily pull back, recognizing that its readers don’t need and aren’t relying on it to chronicle these badlands. Other news outlets are more than willing to go there.”

In other words, Brisbane is urging the Grey Lady to stay true to its colors and not turn blue or purple.

I’m in full agreement. As a subscriber, I want my New York Times to be high road, not low brow.

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Today, I would like you to consider a speech that Bishop Robert Finn made on April 18, 2009, at the “Second Annual Gospel of Life Convention” at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park.

It shows how strong and assertive Finn can be when he’s on a subject that he truly believes in — right to life for the unborn.

Among other things, he declared war on the infidels — people who believe that abortion is a personal choice. He called for militancy; he vowed that he would not be silenced; he said that every day we are presented with the choice between right and wrong.

And then, after he got warmed up, he called for the head of the Rev. John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame University, who invited President Barack Obama, who is pro-choice, to speak at Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement ceremony.

Obama and Jenkins, I’m happy to say, both survived with their jobs intact.

Finn finished the first part of his speech by chiding Notre Dame — which is run by Jesuits, a liberal order of priests — for its “waywardness.”

As you read this, contrast its tone with the actions and tone that Finn has set in the scandal over the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a “wayward” priest whom Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese shielded from authorities for a year before finally turning him in a little more than a week ago. Ratigan is now in jail, charged with three counts of possessing child pornography.

In his speech, I submit, Finn depicts himself as a prelate who is totally preoccupied with own personal war, while a bigger one — the war to cull out abusive priests and protect children’s welfare — is completely off his radar.

Here, then, word for word, is the first major section of that speech, from two years ago.

Dear friends,

Thank you for coming together for this second annual Gospel of Life Convention, co-sponsored by the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It is a privilege to welcome you and greet you this morning. I am grateful for the encouragement of your presence and – as a Bishop it is my solemn and joyful duty to do all I can to fortify you in your own faith.

But as I speak a word of encouragement today I also want to tell you soberly, dear friends, “We are at war!”

We are at war.
Harsh as this may sound it is true – but it is not new. This war to which I refer did not begin in just the last several months, although new battles are underway – and they bring an intensity and urgency to our efforts that may rival any time in the past.

But it is correct to acknowledge that you and I are warriors – members of the Church on earth – often called the Church Militant. Those who have gone ahead of us have already completed their earthly battles. Some make up the Church Triumphant – Saints in heaven who surround and support us still – tremendous allies in the battle for our eternal salvation; and the Church Suffering (souls in purgatory who depend on our prayers and meritorious works and suffrages).

But we are the Church on Earth – The Church Militant. We are engaged in a constant warfare with Satan, with the glamour of evil, and the lure of false truths and empty promises. If we fail to realize how constantly these forces work against us, we are more likely to fall, and even chance forfeiting God’s gift of eternal life.

The ultimate promise of the Gospel.
Before I go any further I must proclaim a most important truth – a truth that we have just been celebrating throughout the last week: Jesus Christ, in His life, death, and Resurrection, has already won the war: definitively and once for all. He has conquered sin and death and has won the prize of life on high in heaven forever. We know the final outcome, but the battle for eternal life is now played out in each human heart with a free will to love or not, to be faithful or to walk away from the life which has been offered as God’s most wonderful gift.

Every day the choice is before us: right or wrong; good or bad; the blessing or the curse; life or death. Our whole life must be oriented toward choosing right, the good, the blessing; choosing life.

If you and I fail to realize the meaning and finality behind our choices, and the intensity of the constant warfare that confronts us, it is likely that we will drop our guard, be easily and repeatedly deceived, and even lose the life of our eternal soul.

As bishop I have a weighty responsibility to tell you this over and over again. This obligation is not always easy, and constantly I am tempted to say and do less, rather than more. Almost every day I am confronted with the persuasion of other people who want me to be silent. But – with God’s grace – you and I will not be silent.

This work of speaking about the spiritual challenges before us is not just the responsibility of the Bishop. I am not the only one entrusted with the work of faith, hope and charity. You are baptized into this Church militant. You are also entrusted with the mission of righteousness. You have the fortification of the sacraments, and the mandate to love as Jesus loved you. You share in the apostolic mission and work of the Church.

What can we say about this constant warfare?
Our battle is ultimately a spiritual battle for the eternal salvation of souls – our own and those of other people. We are not engaged in physical battles in the same way military soldiers defend with material weapons. We need not – we must not – initiate violence against other persons to accomplish something good, even something as significant as the protection of human life.

But it is true that we might have to endure physical suffering to prosper the victory of Jesus Christ. He carried the Cross. He promised us that – if we were to follow Him – we also would share the Cross. We must not expect anything less. When you stand up for what is right – you will be opposed. The temptation will be to avoid these attacks. But through our responses we must see what kind of soldiers we are.

Who is our enemy in this battle of the Church Militant?
Our enemy is the deceiver, the liar, Satan. Because of his spiritual powers he can turn the minds and hearts of men. He is our spiritual or supernatural enemy when he works to tempt us, and he becomes a kind of natural enemy as he works in the hearts of other people to twist and confound God’s will. In our human experience people deceived by Satan’s distortions and lies may appear as our “human enemies.”

But, in his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul makes, for us, a very important distinction. “Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power,” He tells them and us. “Put on the armor of God, in order that you can stand firm against the tactics of the devil.” “For, our struggle,” St. Paul tells us, “is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the rulers of this darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.” (Eph 6:10-12).

So let’s be clear: Human beings are not Satan, but certainly they can come under his power, even without their fully realizing it. When we, in our sinfulness, put something in the place of God: pleasure and convenience; material success; political power and prestige, we open a door for the principalities and contrary spirits who war against God. They want you and me for their prize. When we forsake God and outwardly reject His law and what we know to be His will, we make an easy victory for our supernatural enemies. We fall right into their hands.

But what about the so-called human enemies?
What about the persons who wish to establish a path of living which contravenes God’s law: promoting abortion; unnatural substitutes for marriage, and all such distortions of true freedom? Here Jesus is clear: “But I say to you, love your enemies: and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt 5:44)

We cannot hate these human enemies, and we must find a way to love them. But we need not show them any sign of agreement. We pray for them. We do not lie to them – and we seek that which pertains to their conversion – not to their worldly comforts, but to their eternal salvation. To ignore their destructive errors, particularly those that cost the lives of others, is to shirk our responsibility to attend to their eternal salvation.

There are people who make themselves the public enemies of the Church. They openly attack belief in Christ, or the Church’s right to exist. Quite honestly such groups or individuals are less prevalent than they might have been in prior moments of history. In some ways they are not the most dangerous opponents in our spiritual warfare, because they show themselves and their intentions more forthrightly.

The more dangerous “human enemies” in our battle are those, who in this age of pluralism and political propriety seek ways to convince us of their sincerity and good will. With malice or with ignorance, or perhaps with an intention of advancing some other personal goal, they are willing to undermine and push aside the values and the institutions that stand in their way. They may propose “tolerance” and seem to have a “live and let live” approach to all human choices – even if the choice is not to “let live,” but actually to “let die,” or “let life be destroyed.” These more subtle enemies are of all backgrounds. They may be atheists or agnostics, or of any religion, including Christian or Catholic.

This dissension in our own ranks should not surprise us because we all experience some dissension against God’s law of love within our own heart. But the “battle between believers,” who claim a certain “common ground” with us, while at the same time, they attack the most fundamental tenets of the Church’s teachings, or disavow the natural law – this opposition is one of the most discouraging, confusing, and dangerous.

In my first U.S. Bishops’ Conference meeting – June of 2004 – the bishops passed what seemed to me to be a compromise statement as a result of our lengthy debate on politicians and Communion. There we stated that pro-choice leaders (and specifically, Catholic leaders were mentioned) should not be given public platforms or honors. As we all know the eminent American Catholic University, Notre Dame, is poised to bestow such an opportunity and honor on President Obama, who is, of course, not Catholic. But it doesn’t take another Bishops’ Conference statement to know this is wrong: scandalous, discouraging and confusing to many Catholics.

God knows what all motivates such a decision. I suspect that, since Notre Dame will need a scapegoat for this debacle, and Fr. Jenkins will probably lose his job, at this point perhaps he ought to determine to lose it for doing something right instead of something wrong. He ought to disinvite the President, who I believe would graciously accept the decision. Notre Dame, instead, ought to give the honorary degree to Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who has supported and tried to guide the University, despite their too frequent waywardness, faithfully for 25 years.

Correction: Notre Dame isn’t a Jesuit university. It is run by the Congregation of Holy Cross.

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The latest news on the Robert Finn-Shawn Ratigan case — the emergence of a warning letter a year ago from the principal of St. Patrick Catholic School in Kansas City, North — has transformed the case into an unmitigated scandal for Bishop Finn.

From the diocese response to the letter, it is also clear that Finn and diocesan officials are trying to cover up what Finn knew and when he knew it.

What we do know is that Finn failed to report the evidence to authorities for five months and that he tried, unsuccessfully, to deal with the wayward priest “in house.”

The four and a half page letter, written by school principal Julie Hess, details troubling and perverted behavior by Father Ratigan around children at the school.

It is clear from the letter that Ratigan, who now stands charged with three counts of possessing child pornography (computer images downloaded from his camera), was obsessed with children and spent most of his workdays at the school, instead of on church business.

(I don’t have the letter, but here’s a link to it, as first published yesterday on tonyskc.com.)

Hess and other staff members, including many teachers at St. Patrick School, were obviously very concerned about Ratigan’s preoccupation with the children and his “hands-on” approach to them. It’s apparent that Hess took notes for a long time and left nothing to chance or speculation.

She simply recounted facts — very troubling facts, including an instance when a parishioner who was helping out at the church one day couldn’t find her young son, whom she had brought with her. When she called out for him, he came around and said, “I was in Father Shawn’s office. He wanted to show me something.”

Hess went on to say, “The mother was very uncomfortable with this since Father has a back room off his office that no one can access and her son was alone with the priest.”

Hess sent the letter, dated May 19, 2010, to the Rev. Robert Murphy, diocesan vicar general, who is Finn’s principal deputy.

Just as troubling as the letter itself is the diocese’s “explanation” of how it was handled. Yesterday, once again, the diocese trotted out out its spokeswoman, Becky Summers, to answer questions.

Listen to what Summers told a Kansas City Star reporter:

1) “Monsignor Murphy went through each point (in the letter) with Ratigan and set clear boundaries for him.”

I’d like to know if Murphy met with him in person. Or did he talk to him on the phone, or did he even handle it by e-mail? Who knows? If it was anything but a face-to-face meeting, it was a sham.

2) The Star’s story says, “Summers said she didn’t know whether Murphy gave the memo to Bishop Robert Finn.”


Summers, you know, works in the same building with the bishop at 20 W. Ninth Street, Kansas City, Mo.

What’s to stop her from ambling over to Finn’s office and asking him, “Did you get the memo?” And why wouldn’t she have done just that? Is she too busy? Is he too busy?

I have no intention of trying to pin her down on this because it’s clear that giving the press the runaround and trying to keep the bishop under cover have become the top priorities. Finn and the diocese are now in full circle-the-wagons mode, and I think we’re going to see a lot of stone-walling from here on out.

It’s going to be a long summer for Becky Summers.

In my opinion, the stone-walling and obfuscation are only going to hurt the diocese, however. This case has now reached the point where it is obvious that Finn put his desire to see Ratigan — reportedly a fellow conservative — continue functioning as a priest far ahead of the safety and well-being of the children.

Finn has been bishop six years. When he arrived from St. Louis, lugging his conservative track record, I think a lot of liberal and moderate Catholics were circumspect. They have been waiting to see how he might handle an ethical dilemma, along the lines of alleged priestly impropriety.

Now it has happened. And Finn has completely blown it. He has shown his colors: It’s clergy and conservative ideology above all. The laity, especially the children, are secondary.

I think what we’ll see now is many Kansas City area Catholics leaving the church. For many who were teetering, this will be the last straw.

Also, this is going to cost the diocese hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions,  in future contributions. Many people are going to ask themselves, “Why would I contribute to a corrupt organization?”

And they’re either going to keep their money in their pockets or give to other, more credible, organizations.

Footnote: At 4:40 p.m., The Star posted a story saying that Finn had held an afternoon news conference at which he said, “I must also acknowledge my own failings. As bishop, I owe it to people to say things must change.”

The Star paraphrased Finn as saying that Murphy, the vicar general, briefed him on Hess’s letter at the time but that he (Finn) did not ask to see it first hand. “Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Monsignor Murphy an actual copy of the report,” Finn said.

Finn said that Murphy met with Ratigan in person after Murphy got Hess’s letter.

Finn said he would be holding meetings to determine how best to change the diocese’s internal structure, reporting and procedures, presumably regarding cases of alleged priestly misconduct.


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What a sad day it is for Kansas City, that we have lost Royals’ great Paul Splittorff to cancer.

The 64-year-old former pitcher and, until recently, TV announcer, died at his home in Blue Springs.

I never met him, but, like tens of thousands of Royals’ fans, I always admired his grit and his class. At the end, it was his courage that stood out. One of the reasons news of his death strikes with such force is that memories and mental images of him being alive are so fresh.

He continued announcing until a few weeks ago, against all odds, simply refusing to yield to his collapsing internal systems.

It was difficult, and puzzling, to watch as his health declined, but he never sought pity or sorrow: He wanted the focus to be on the games, on his beloved Royals. When his voice started going out a few years ago, he attributed it to a viral infection, and never gave any indication the problem was significant.

Of course, as he continued to deteriorate, it was clear that the problems went much deeper than infection. Last week, Greg Hall, a former Kansas City Star writer, broke the story on KC Confidential that Splitt was dying of cancer and had entered the University of Kansas Hospital.

In comments to the piece, Hall came under a rash of criticism for allegedly violating Splitt’s and his family’s right to privacy. I think Hall’s piece was completely valid and warranted, however, especially because Splitt had decided that he wanted to keep the focus off himself by underplaying the seriousness of his problem. Clearly, it was a big story, mainly because of his stature and his public role.

Within hours of Hall’s story being posted, Splitt’s family acknowledged that he had cancer. At that point, they asked for privacy. To the best of my knowledge, the press complied.

I don’t want to overstate this, but the way Splitt decided to go out — playing his hand as best he could in front of the cameras — reminded me of the late Pope John Paul II’s protracted, very public deterioration.

For several years, when I would watch Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, I would look at John Paul, shake my head and think, “Well, this is going to be his last Christmas Eve Mass. No way he’ll be back next year.” But he kept coming back.

God bless him, Splitt chose the same route. What an example of fortitude.

If the same fate befell me, I’m pretty sure I would just curl up, close the doors and tell everyone to leave me alone.

May you rest in peace, Paul, and reap the reward of eternal life.

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As many of you know, a great friend and promoter of Kansas City, former City Councilman Bob Lewellen, died May 18.


His funeral was held last Wednesday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in south Kansas City, where Bob lived.

Former Mayor Richard L. Berkley, who served on the council with Lewellen, gave the eulogy.

Here is that eulogy, edited slightly for length.

“Bob Lewellen was my friend. I feel very honored to be asked to speak at this service. What a great asset and now what a loss for his family, numerous friends and our entire community. Bob had a combination of many skills. He was a businessman and, even more, an entrepreneur. He was a politician and a very good citizen. He was an idea man and a very good one. He was a great promoter of the city. He was a sports fan, and he worked as a TV cameraman.

“He was a neighbor activist and a real estate investor. He was a humorist, a devoted husband and a great father. Many times, I would see Bob do what he thought was right or best for the city, even when it was not necessarily popular or to his political advantage. His motive was to improve Kansas City, spend wisely, try new ideas, be creative, use good business practices and search for new way to accomplish the objective.

“Another great characteristic of Bob was that he didn’t care who got the credit for an idea or new plan. He just wanted to see it succeed. When Congressman Emanuel Cleaver – then a city councilman – proposed a plan that had in it several different capital improvements projects of significance for the city, Bob supported what later became known as “The Cleaver Plan.” The plan was not inexpensive, and there was opposition to it.

“I am convinced that if Bob had opposed it, it would not have passed the council. But Bob, who, I believe, was thinking of running for mayor against likely opponent Emanuel Cleaver, supported it, knowing Emanuel would get significant good publicity as a result of the plan.

“Bob did what was best for the community – not what was best for Bob Lewellen. (Editor’s note: Lewellen did end up running against Cleaver, and lost to him, in 1991.)

“Bob, as we know, had physical problems virtually from birth, which were later made even more difficult as a result of an auto accident. Not once did I ever hear him complain about his situation. In fact, he had a quick wit and a very good sense of humor.

“On one occasion, Bob and I were having a meeting with a number of citizens who were concerned about problems that develop in working with the city. They mentioned one department head who they felt was difficult and inflexible. This department head was of German heritage, as am I. Without hesitation, Bob replied in a deep German accent, “He is on his way to Germany at this very moment to get more stubbornness lessons.” It brought down the house.

“Bob was very involved in improvements at the airport. He wanted to see more direct flights to other significant cities. He also worked on getting more freight traffic at the airport. We both came up with the same idea at the same time — after being in other airports — that we needed to have a more attractive and promotional airport by having large photographs that showed important areas of the city. Bob wouldn’t stop until that was accomplished.

“Bob devoted an extraordinary amount of time to the Leukemia Society. He told me once how many times he went to New York each year, and I was amazed. He did that for about a dozen years, maybe more. His time and effort had a major impact nationally for that organization.

“Bob was a tremendous sports fan. He worked with the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission. He again was novel in creating ways to get people involved. He generated the idea of creating honorary coaches for the NAIA Basketball Tournament, held each year in Kansas City. It was a big success.

“In his sports activities, I’m sure many of you knew of his interest but didn’t realize that at the Chiefs’ football games, the man in the tall chair with the TV camera, riding up and down the sidelines was Bob Lewellen. It was another unique way that he was involved. He loved it.

“His entrepreneurial skills were demonstrated by his involvement in developing franchises for Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Working with Block and Co., he was the initial operator of a company that eventually had over 50 locations in this area. He was also involved in a variety of other small businesses.

“After his service on various boards and then eight years on the council, Mayor Kay Barnes appointed him to the Parks Board, which is generally considered one of the most prestigious and important appointments a mayor makes. Bob did a great amount to improve an already-top-level Parks Department.

“He particularly appreciated and helped the zoo and the Friends of the Zoo. He was able to make sure the zoo had a carousel, primarily for the kids. And it was dedicated to Ruth (his wife, who died in 2007). That was great.

“Bob was someone I had a great deal of confidence in. We didn’t always agree, but I knew his motives were right and his thinking sound. He wanted what was best and would fight for it. He was a true citizen-politician in the best sense of the term. Because of Bob, we all have had a better quality of life, as will many in the future.

“Thank you, friend.”

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Time to assess the initial coverage of the incredible Joplin tornado by The Kansas City Star and local TV stations.

The highest grade, an A+, goes to KMBC, Channel 9, which had at least two reporters and one or more camera crews on the scene and devoted at least the first 15 minutes, it seemed to me, of its 10 p.m. newscast to the disaster.

Anchor Lara Moritz and chief meteorologist Brian Busby stood on the set and delivered the news in front of a backdrop of video from the storm. Their positioning — not sitting behind the desk — sent a clear signal that something big was afoot.

Amazingly, The Star had no one on the scene last night, at least no one who was reporting for the morning edition. It relied on “staff and wire reports,” with the staff reports being provided by two reporters, Brian Burnes and Eric Adler, who made calls from Kansas City.

From this corner, The Star gets a grade of D-minus.

The Star did send a reporter, Brad Cooper, to Reading, Kan., to cover that city’s tornado, which struck Saturday night. But only one person died in that tornado, and it’s a very small town, near Emporia.

By contrast, Joplin — with 50,000 people in the city and 174,000 in the area — lost at least 89 people, and the level of destruction was jaw dropping. (At 4:15 p.m., CNN was reporting that the death toll was 116.)

More details…

I didn’t learn about the storm until 9:58 p.m., when I saw it on CNN’s website. The CNN story quoted an American Red Cross official as saying, “I would say 75 percent of the town is virtually gone.”

I gasped…But it was a gross exaggeration. On a CNN video report today, an official-sounding person says that 25 to 30 percent of the town suffered “major or significant damage,” and Channel 9 was saying last night that the southern third of the city suffered major damage. There’s a big difference between 75 percent and 25 or 30 percent (or even 33 percent).

After scanning the lead CNN story, I ran to the TV and started flipping channels. It was clear that KMBC, the top-rated station in Kansas City, was well ahead of at least two others — KSHB Channel 41 and  KCTV5.

I’m not much of a TV news devotee, so in my haste to get the best report, I overlooked FOX4.

Today, representatives of all three stations — 4, 5, and 41 — said they had crews in Joplin last night and that they aired reports on the 10 p.m. newscasts.

Peggy Phillip, news director at KSHB Channel 41, said that her station sent one crew at 6:45 p.m. — 45 minutes after the tornado struck and put another on the road about half an hour later. KSHB’s coverage led off at 10 p.m., she said, with “a multi-media journalist reporting live (by phone) over video” from The Weather Channel.

By 10:15, Phillip said, the station had one of its journalists on camera, at the scene.

Someone on the assignment desk at KCTV5 told me today that they had four people on the scene last night, but, in my channel flipping, I was underwhelmed by the station’s coverage. As I recall, they were emphasizing local weather at the top of the hour. For a station renowned for hyperventilating about even the prospect of bad weather, Channel 5’s coverage seemed totally disproportionate to its usual hyperbole.

Now, more about The Star’s coverage…

The danger of using “staff and wire reports,” instead of sending reporters to the scene is that you get a lot of second-hand information.

Sure enough, in the third paragraph of today’s front-page story, The Star picked up the CNN quote from Kathy Dennis of the American Red Cross: “I would say 75 percent of the town is virtually gone.”

Even as I gasped when reading that on CNN’s site, I was skeptical. The Red Cross official could not have surveyed the entire town, so how could she say 75 percent of it was gone?

It was irresponsible and very unwise of The Star to run that comment without having its own reporter on the scene, and the quote draped a shroud of skepticism over the entire story.

Perhaps more ignominiously, The Star relied on The Wichita Eagle, a fellow McClatchy-owned paper, for significant coverage. The credit line at the end of the lead story attributed the reporting to The Associated Press and The Eagle, as well as Burnes and Adler.

The Star’s coverage also included a stand-alone, 12-column-inch story on Page A-8 by The Eagle’s Beccy Tanner, from Joplin.

Why is this important?

Well, according to MapQuest, it’s 184 miles from Wichita to Joplin. From Kansas City to Joplin, it’s 157 miles. Who has the quicker, easier access?

But, no matter, The Star was all over that tornado in Reading, Kan. — population 231.

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Thanks to everyone for their thoughtful responses on “Bishop Robert Finn — hidebound prelate of Kansas City-St. Joseph.”

Now, three more questions need to be addressed.

1) Why did Finn apparently fail to review the pornographic photos found in the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan’s laptop?

2) Why did Finn choose not to report Ratigan or turn the evidence over to police for five months?

3) Should Finn resign or be fired?


First, the diocese’s handling of the evidence.

I think we can safely assume that Finn did not review any of the images personally. If so, that is a complete dereliction of duty.

In his statement, released Friday afternoon, after coming under a blizzard of criticism, Finn said:

“In mid December of 2010, I was told that a personal computer belonging to Fr. Shawn Ratigan was found to have many images of female children. Most of these were images of children at public or parish events. I was told that there were also some small number of images that were much more disturbing, images of an unclothed child who was not identifiable because her face was not visible.

“The very next day, we contacted a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and described one of the more disturbing images. At the same time, the diocese showed the images to legal counsel. In both instances we were told that, while very troubling, the photographs did not constitute child pornography, as they did not depict sexual conduct or contact.”

Now, ask yourself, what should have been Finn’s first words after hearing about such photos?

“Let me see them for myself.”

Right? Of course.

But, no, he chose to avert his eyes, turn his head and see no evil.

Why? The answer, I believe, lies in the answer to the second question that needs to be addressed. So, on we go…


Finn’s failure to call police about the photos, mostly up-skirt images of clothed girls 12 and younger. (The Star’s Saturday story, said, however, that at least one nude photo focused on a girl’s genitals.)

As everyone knows, Finn is a very conservative bishop — one of those that the late Pope John Paul II and his successor, Benedict XVI, have stacked the deck with. In turn, the ranks of conservative bishops have placed the most conservative priests in the biggest churches so they can set the desired tone and reach the most people.

The renegades, i.e., the liberal priests, have been relegated to the hinterlands of the diocese, for the most part. Many of those priests are simply trying to hang on until they reach retirement — not so differently than many long-time reporters and editors at The Kansas City Star.

Ratigan was in a prominent Northland parish, St. Patrick’s. What was his philosophy? I don’t know personally, but listen to what former KC Star reporter Mike Rice said in a comment regarding Friday’s post:

“I don’t know Shawn Ratigan but do know of people who stopped attending Mass at St. Patrick’s because of his religious ideologies, which I hear are similar to Bishop Finn’s. I cannot help but wonder whether Bishop Finn held back on going to authorities because he considered Father Ratigan an ideological ally.”

That evidence might be a little thin regarding Ratigan’s ideology, but I think it certainly stands the test of common sense and believe it’s safe to assume that Finn and Ratigan are fellow conservatives.

And just as it could well be more difficult for a liberal bishop to turn in a liberal priest, it seems to me that Finn, as Rice suggests, shirked his managerial responsibility because he just couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger on a like-minded soul.

Same goes for reviewing the pictures. It was a lot easier for Finn to determine that the photos did not constitute pornography when he merely had them described to him rather than view them himself. He washed his hands of that responsibility in his statement, you might have noted, when he said that the photos “did not depict sexual conduct or contact.”

So, the answers to questions one and two, in my opinion, is one and same: Finn was giving Ratigan a huge, undeserved benefit of the doubt and trying to shield him as long as possible.


Finally, should Finn resign or be fired?

I’ll let an eloquent commenter to Friday’s post, concernedcatholic, make the case.

She wrote:

“Finn must resign. I hope that the media holds his feet to the fire on this. We, as Catholics, cannot tolerate this.

“Finn’s lack of judgment demands that he no longer serve as bishop. Ratigan was only reported to the police after he disobeyed the bishop’s order to stay away from children. It is not illegal to disobey the bishop. If Ratigan’s activities warranted police investigation in May, they certainly deserved investigation back in December.

“When the photos of little girls were discovered on Ratigan’s computer, how could Finn not wonder what else Ratigan might be doing? Did Finn not wonder if the photos were the tip of the iceberg? Did the parents of these children not deserve to know that their children had been exploited?

“Please join me in demanding that Finn resign. His actions are indefensible.”

Powerful stuff…especially, to me, the line about parents deserving to know that their children had been exploited.  That’s the real horror in the non-reporting for five months: Justice has been delayed for the victims, and other potential victims were exposed to the creep who was running around loose.

In any other arena, Finn would be out of a job today. Even Warren Buffet let his top guy go after an ethical transgression.

But it doesn’t work that way in the Catholic Church. It keeps making noise about the importance of sniffing out abusive priests and protecting the children. But it just doesn’t happen.

It would shock me to the core if Finn resigned. And, by the same token, Pope Benedict, who is also guilty of covering for abusive priests, certainly won’t be a hypocrite and fire him.

Expect the merry-go-round to keep on turning, then.

It’s pathetic.

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Back in the March 2010, in my second-ever post, I called on Pope Benedict XVI to resign in the wake of the reignited priest-sexual-abuse scandal.

I didn’t get much response to the post (although a commenter named Rick said “your lack of respect for the religion is appalling”), and a friend who read the piece said, “You gotta get off that and get on to some local stuff.”

I took his advice but have believed since then that the Catholic hierarchy has gone so far astray that the church is no longer a viable institution in the modern era.

And now, today, here in Kansas City, we see yet another incredible, stupefying example of how the Catholic church has done all it could to shield perverted priests at the expense of the safety and well-being of children.

In case you didn’t catch The Star’s front-page story, a 45-year-old priest named Shawn Francis Ratigan — Father Ratigan, you understand — has been charged with three felony counts of possessing pornographic photos of children. He took pictures of girls as young as 3 or 4, and he took other photos up the skirts of girls under 12, according to documents filed in Clay County Circuit Court.


In his police mug shot, Father Ratigan looks like a creepy guy you’d want to avoid, even at the Quik Trip.

The indefensible action in this case, however, is that officials with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph learned about the photos in December but waited until last week — five months — to report Ratigan to police.

By contrast, the Clay County prosecutor filed charges within three hours of receiving the case file from police on Thursday.

The Star’s story said: “When asked why the diocese didn’t notify authorities until Friday, diocese officials said they consulted with legal counsel and ‘took appropriate steps based on the facts as we knew them.’ ”

On top of the delay, the diocese made a copy of the images found on Ratigan’s laptop and then, instead of turning the computer over to police, gave it to his family, who destroyed it. 

The diocese sent out its spokeswoman, Becky Summers, to try to explain the debacle, and Becky, a long-time acquaintance, played a terrible hand as best she could.

But let there be no misunderstanding: Although the story did not once mention his name, the guiltiest party in this fiasco — besides Ratigan — is Bishop Robert Finn, who, during his six-year tenure, has managed to set the diocese back about 50 years. I have no doubt his goal is to take the church back a full century and that he will succeed.

I greatly admired Pope John Paul II’s humility and personal courage, but he stacked the deck with cardinals and bishops who are bent on taking the church back to the pre-Vatican II era, and Pope Benedict and Bishop Finn are straight out of John Paul’s mold.

Finn set the tone here early on, when he put out orders directing, among other things, that lay members should not be near the altar during Mass; that priests should not leave the altar to mingle with the congregation at “the sign of peace” after the Lord’s Prayer; and that only “sacred” metal vessels — not crystal — should be used for the wine that Catholics believe is transformed into the blood of Christ at the consecration.

Bishop Finn in full battle regalia

In addition, every chance he gets, Finn presents himself with staff and mitre. He has his own “altar boy,” a guy in his 40s or 50s, who dresses in the throwback black cassock and white surplice.

In other words, Finn has clearly demonstrated that, to him, it’s all about symbol over substance, clergy over laity. He’s much more consumed with the aura of the clergy and making church services a big production than he is about the church ministering to the people.

It’s no surprise, then — but still shocking — that he would hold damning evidence against a priest for five months, possibly allowing the perp to drift away or the evidence to be misplaced. Fortunately, the case appears to be intact. Police have a disk — provided, kindly, by the diocese — with the pornographic images, and Ratigan was being held on $200,000 bond.

In case you’re wondering, I am a former Catholic. My wife Patty left the church about five years ago, and I left about four years ago, about the time Finn came out with his no-laity-near-the-altar and priests-shouldn’t-leave-the-altar dictums. I’m now a member of the Disciples of Christ, a denomination rooted in egalitarianism and dedicated to serving the needs of its members.

I’ve never looked back, and episodes like the handling of the Ratigan case make me almost fall to my knees in thanks that I’m not associated with an organization that does not seek to have justice served as quickly as possible, especially when the victims are children.


This afternoon, Bishop Finn rose to the surface and issued the following statement:

“In mid December of 2010, I was told that a personal computer belonging to Fr. Shawn Ratigan was found to have many images of female children. Most of these were images of children at public or parish events. I was told that there were also some small number of images that were much more disturbing, images of an unclothed child who was not identifiable because her face was not visible.

“The very next day, we contacted a Kansas City, Missouri, police officer and described one of the more disturbing images. At the same time, the diocese showed the images to legal counsel. In both instances we were told that, while very troubling, the photographs did not constitute child pornography, as they did not depict sexual conduct or contact.

“Immediately after the diocese became aware of these images, Shawn Ratigan attempted suicide. In the week or so after this, Shawn Ratigan survived his suicide attempt and became conscious. He went from the medical center to a psychiatric unit until it seemed that the risk of another suicide attempt was minimized.

“I then sent him for a psychiatric evaluation out of state. The psychiatrist asked for and was provided with the images we had so he could evaluate Shawn’s condition. When he returned, Shawn stayed at his mother’s home for a while until I could determine a place where he could reside, continue counseling and not be around children. The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist kindly agreed to have him assist them by saying Mass for the sisters. I restricted him from participating in or attending other events if there were children present. He lived at an adjoining property, the Vincentian Mission House, and paid rent. He did not have his computer or his camera in his possession during this period.

“In early March, Shawn’s family asked for Shawn’s computer to be returned. It had been kept at the offices of the diocesan legal counsel, and was given to them.

“In late March, I received some reports that Shawn was violating some of the conditions of his stay. I was told that he attended a St. Patrick Day parade and met with friends and families. He also attended a child’s birthday party at the invitation of the child’s parents. I confronted him about these things and told him again that he was not permitted to have any contact with minors.

“When Shawn continued to disregard these requirements, on May 12 ,Vicar General Monsignor Robert Murphy contacted the same police officer previously consulted to discuss his concerns. That officer facilitated our report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit. Along with our report, we provided the electronic images that we had received in December. Detective Maggie McGuire began an investigation. In the past week she conducted interviews and, pursuant to a search warrant, found additional materials, which had never been in our possession and which we did not know existed, and which are alleged to constitute child pornography. On May 19, Shawn Ratigan was arrested and charged in Clay County with three counts of a C felony possession of child pornography.

“I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation.

“Shawn Ratigan was a popular priest who had a large network of friends, and was media savvy. Many parents have called with deep concerns about their children who knew and trusted him. To any parents who have any questions or concerns about contact between their children and Shawn Ratigan, I recommend that you contact Detective McGuire at 816-584-6633.

“As a people of faith, in times of difficulty we rely on prayer and God’s grace to fortify our human efforts. I pray that the strong anger, shame, disappointment and fear that so many are feeling will be helped by our trust in Him.”

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Congratulations are in order to Mark Zieman, who has been promoted from KC Star publisher to vice president of operations for parent company McClatchy Co.

Today, I want to talk about his leadership and also about the competition that is about to take place to replace him.

Zieman, 50, has had a very successful, upward-bound, 25-year career at The Star. The paper apparently has continued to do well financially during Zieman’s three-year watch as publisher, despite the bottom falling out of the newspaper industry.

I haven’t liked everything Zieman has done at The Star, but, in my opinion, he has earned this opportunity to prove or disprove himself at a higher level. He inherited a successful enterprise from previous publishers, including the late James H. Hale, and he has managed to hold it together, at least financially.

He has held it together almost entirely through cost-cutting, however. There’s less of the paper, literally, than there used to be, and there are far fewer employees, including quite a few valuable editorial employees.

I said that I haven’t liked everything Zieman has done. What bothered me most was that when the layoffs began three years ago, Zieman donned rose-colored glasses with each round of layoffs and issued statement after statement about how better times were just around the corner. That went on until earlier this year, when he struck a note more of resignation and hope, instead of certainty, about light at the end of the tunnel.

When I wrote about his cheery, public position, I said that I was losing confidence in him as publisher. That was probably an overstatement, although I’m sure that most, if not all, of the employees who have been laid off would express a similar sentiment. Also, as a retired reporter and assignment editor at The Star, I was looking at it through the eyes of someone who could have experienced the same fate, had I not gotten out two years before the axe started falling. (It was just plain luck that got me out the door, I have to admit, not prescience.)

Now, Zieman is going to be under more pressure than ever. He will oversee 14 daily papers, including The Star, in several states. McClatchy paid way too much — $4.6 billion — for the Knight Ridder papers in 2006, and they may never be able to pay off the debt they took on to swing the deal.

Last year, a Morningstar analyst wrote, “Our fair value estimate on McClatchy’s shares is $0.” (For the record, it’s about $2.75  per share now.)

The analyst said he believed that the balance eventually would tip from stockholders’ interests to creditors’ interests and that stockholders would be left empty-handed.

So, that’s the spare meal that Zieman will sit down to at McClatchy headquarters in Sacramento.

CEO Gary Pruitt and other top executives undoubtedly will look to Zieman for fresh ideas on digging out of deep holes. He will face expectations, probably, to devise plans to cut costs and somehow generate new revenue, perhaps through imaginative uses of the web.

So, I wish him luck. He’s definitely going to need it, and I think we can look for that graying hair to lose what is left of its dark luster within a few years — if McClatchy lasts that long.


Now, back at the ranch…several Star vice presidents, certainly would like to be considered for the publisher’s job. Among them could be Mike Fannin, editor; Chris Christian, v.p for circulation; Chris Piwowarek, v.p. for human resources; and Miriam Pepper, v.p. of the editorial page.

I think McClatchy will look closely at the prospect of naming a woman as publisher, which would guarantee Piwowarek (pronounced pee-va-vorek) and Pepper a close look. However, I think all of the people mentioned above are long shots for the following reasons.

Christian and Piwowarek because their kingdoms are relatively narrow. Pepper because her background is on the editorial side. Fannin because most of his background is in sports and also because it has come to light since he was named editor in 2008 that he has two d.u.i convictions and a 1994 misdemeanor assault conviction in Texas, where he formerly worked.

Another long shot, from the newsroom, would be managing editor Steve Shirk, who has provided steady and confident leadership in every post he has held in his approximate 35-year career at the paper. Working against him, however, is the fact that, like Pepper, all his experience is on the editorial side.

Without completely ruling out an inside promotion, I tend to think that McClatchy will bring in someone from outside. I think they will promote a current publisher at a smaller paper in the chain.

That’s what they recently did in Lexington, Ky., at the Lexington Herald-Leader. There, Rufus M. Friday, president and publisher of the Tri-City Herald in eastern Washington, will replace long-time Herald-Leader publisher Tim Kelly, who is retiring at the end of this month.

I think McClatchy will want to continue planting seeds of hope with its current publishers, on the outside chance that the company will find its way out of the long tunnel.

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Not surprisingly, Highwoods Properties and its minions have launched a pre-emptive strike against the Friends of the Plaza group, which is trying to gather enough signatures to force a referendum on Highwoods’ proposed office building at 47th Street and Broadway.

A mailer that hit the boxes of frequent voters Monday urges people to “Decline to Sign” the petitions being circulated by opponents of the building.

It’s a full-color, very professional-looking piece, measuring six inches by 11 inches. It opens to an 11X12-inch inside page of facts, figures and photos.

Not surprisingly — again — some of the facts, figures and photos are misleading.


:: The mailer says the proposed building would be seven stories.

Fact: It would be seven stories, but on top of a three-level parking garage. The height would be 163 feet, approximately as tall as the 12-story Townsend Place condos across Broadway. Each floor of the new building would be significantly taller than the customary 10 or 12 feet.

:: The piece says that “the proposed building conforms to the Plaza Plan.” That’s a reference to the Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan — approved by the City Council in 1989 — which essentially limits commercial development to the west and northwest parts of the Plaza.

Fact: The plan did not conform until a few weeks ago, when the old and new city councils adopted a resolution amending the plan. As for the actual ordinance that would rezone the Neptune site from residential to commercial, it is in abeyance while opponents are gathering signatures. Resolutions are not subject to referendum; ordinances are.

:: A photo of the Neptune Apartments, which would come down if the plan goes forward, and the Townsend Place condos was taken from the north side of the Plaza, from 46th Terrace, which could give the casual observer the impression that the Neptune is west of Broadway.

Fact: The Neptune is east of Broadway, and that is the most significant issue in this debate — office-building encroachment east of Broadway.

Below is the photo in the flier, and below that is the view that the vast majority of people have of the Neptune and Townsend Place as Plaza visitors stand or walk along 47th Street.

So, what we’ve got, already, is a campaign of misrepresentation and duplicity. But what else would you expect?

After all, it’s not J.C. Nichols Co. any more; it’s Highwoods, a commercial office building developer and leaser out of Raleigh, NC.


This afternoon, the City Plan Commission heard testimony on a related matter — a proposed “overlay” to the city’s overall zoning ordinance.

Vicki Noteis, a consultant to Friends of the Plaza, said the overlay ordinance, proposed by Councilman Ed Ford as a sop to opponents of the high rise, would put a three-story limit on the core part of the Plaza.

However, she said, two big loopholes would accompany the concession. First, if Highwoods wanted a variance from the three-story limit, it could go straight to the City Council and bypass the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment. Second, 15 percent of the total retail space in the core of the Plaza — about 135,000 square feet — would be exempt from the restriction.

Theoretically, then, Highwoods would be free to build a 135,000 square-foot building, perhaps eight stories or more, wherever it wanted on the Plaza.

Noteis said the Plan Commission did not vote on the proposal but, instead, continued it and instructed the opposing sides to try to come to an agreement on it.

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