Bishop Finn must be in agony right now.
Here’s a man who arrived in Kansas City from St. Louis six years ago, riding the crest of a big conservative wave that Pope John Paul II had set in motion in an attempt to wash liberalism out of church hierarchy.
Attaining the rank of bishop at 52 years old, he must have had visions of rising in the ranks, becoming at least a cardinal and — who knows what he saw in his dreams? — maybe the first American pope.
And now? His career is in tatters. Everywhere he turns — even to the editorial page of The Kansas City Star — he sees and hears calls for him to resign as a result of the latest priest-impropriety cover-up.
One of his priests, Shawn Ratigan, is in jail — six months after he should have been because of Finn’s foot dragging — and another, Michael Tierney, was suspended last week after a retrospective, hurry-up review found “credible reports alleging sexual misconduct with minors.”
Finn has been scrambling around, doing his mea culpas, hoping to hang on amid a situation that seems to be building to a crescendo. I was astounded, for example, to open the paper Saturday and read the editorial calling for Finn to resign.
Historically — probably because the editorial board sees its mission as primarily secular in nature — The Star has steered clear of religious matters on the opinion front. For the paper to plunge head deep into the controversy is a strong signal of the degree of the problem.
“…there was a disturbing pattern in his diocese,” the editorial states. “As of now, 18 current and former priests have been accused of abuse. Given those numbers, Finn can reasonably be held to a higher degree of diligence than he exhibited. And it’s understandable that some parishioners perceive a cavalier manner in which he loitered with allegations.”
The Star calls him cavalier. Others have characterized him as “self-important.”
Relatively few Catholics have risen to Finn’s defense. So obvious are Finn’s shortcomings that even most of the knee-jerk defenders of Catholic hierarchy have been silenced.
And listen to what a couple of committed Catholics have had to say about Finn.
Richard E. Smith, Altamont, Mo., letter to the editor, June 3:
“I have always been a Catholic. I will always be a Catholic. I don’t really know how to be anything but a Catholic. I firmly believe in the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith. Bishop Finn, you are hurting my church. Please resign.”
Ken Hansen, Smithville, letter to the editor, June 4:
“…the bishop was dishonest with his flock. He says he didn’t bother to look at any pictures, interview Father Ratigan directly or read a warning letter from the principal at St. Patrick School. If protection is truly a top priority, Bishop Finn should have been totally involved. He gave this whole thing about as much priority as a bid on a new furnace.”
Bishop Finn will probably not be fired, partly because of the church’s goofy managerial system.
The pope appoints all 5,065 bishops (as of the beginning of this year), and only the pope can remove a bishop…Now, whoever heard of a manager having 5,000 direct reports? How could one person possibly keep tabs on 5,000 employees?
I wonder if Pope Benedict XVI is even aware of the problem in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.
Here’s another strange fact, from a website called catholic-pages.com.
“All bishops are also required to submit a quinquennial report to the pope (i.e, every five years) reporting on their diocese and any problems that may have arisen in their diocese or difficulties the faithful are facing. At about the time that this quinquennial report is required, the bishops of the region make their visit ad limina Apostolorum where they travel to Rome to pray before the Tomb of St Peter and to meet individually with the Holy Father to ensure he is kept aware of the state of the Church throughout the world.”
With 5,000 bishops, that means the pope would have to meet with an average of 1,000 bishops a year, or about three bishops a day just to catch up with what’s going on in the far corners of the world… like America.
Unfortunately, Finn has been here six years, and if he had his quinquennial meeting with the Holy Father, it would have taken place last year.
Now, you might be wondering what kind of activity or heresy is likely to get a bishop in deep water. I did a Google search for bishops getting fired, and the most recent case I found was that of an Australian bishop, William Morris, whom Pope Benedict dismissed early last month because he had argued that the Catholic Church should consider ordaining married men and women because of a shortage of priests.
The Morris flap had gone on for five years, and his diocese is in an uproar as a result of Benedict’s decision.
You see, then, what the church’s idea of a grave problem is.
As for Finn and the possibility of resignation…probably won’t happen. Without a clear threat to his job status from Rome, I suspect he’ll keep apologizing, keep meeting with angry Catholics (as he did Friday night at St. Thomas More) and try to ride out the crescendo.
Of course, as I’ve said before, that route will clearly cost the diocese members and money. It’s been gratifying to me — a former Catholic who left because the church was looking backward instead of ahead — to see the reaction to Finn’s attempted cover-up.
He now regrets it. He’s miserable, and people of good sense are fuming. It’s a bad combination, and it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen.
Here’s the worst case scenario, again from catholic-pages.com:
“All bishops, (except the pope, Bishop of Rome) are required by Canon Law to tender their resignation if sickness or other grave reasons make them incapable of carrying on their role, or when they reach the age of 75.”
Hate to say it, but it’s possible we could have Finn another 17 years.