From my ranch house near Meyer Circle, I swear I can hear cheering from the area of Visitation Catholic Church, more than a mile away at 51st and Main.
More faintly, I also hear the echo of whoops and hollers from the area of St. Thomas More Church at 118th and Holmes.
The reason for the spontaneous celebrations?
Archbishop Joseph Naumann, interim leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, announced today that he was pulling the plug on several extremely controversial priest reassignments that former Bishop Robert Finn announced shortly before Pope Francis asked for and got his resignation.
Here is the upshot of the changes, which, according to a diocesan news release, Naumann made “after prayerful deliberation and consultation with his advisors.”
:: Rev. Don Farnan, pastor at St. Thomas More, will stay on for a year instead of taking a leave of absence. Before resigning, Finn informed Farnan he would be transferred to parishes in Gallatin and Hamilton, Missouri. Farnan said he would go but only after taking a leave of absence, which, he told me, he has wanted for a long time. Farnan and Finn are far apart on the Catholic political spectrum, with Finn being ideologically rigid and Farnan being flexible and moderate.
:: Rev. Richard Rocha, a Finn ally who had previously been announced as the new pastor at St. Thomas More, will remain as diocesan director of vocations. (Rocha and Finn were so tight that a former diocesan chancellor — a layman — used to call Rocha “Finn’s wife.” Ouch!)
:: Rev. Pat Rush, who had been set to retire after several years as pastor at Visitation, will delay his retirement and remain at Visitation for a year, when the next round of priest transfers probably will be made.
:: Rev. Vincent Rogers, another Finn compatriot, who had been announced as new pastor at Visitation, will remain at St. Andrew the Apostle Church, Gladstone, where he has spent the last four and a half years.
In a phone conversation this evening, Farnan said he was happy he would be staying at St. Thomas More but that, in the bigger picture, he had “mixed emotions” about the state of the diocese.
“People are hurting so badly,” he said. “There’s a real sense that it’s time to rebuild. A lot of repairs need to take place.”
In that vein, he said, he was picking up on Pope Francis’ goal of “repairing” the church as a whole.
Farnan said that Naumann has been encouraging diocesan priests to help him give Finn’s successor “a church that’s healthier, holier and more wholesome.”
The proposed reassignments had prompted volcanic-level opposition among parishioners at Visitation and St. Thomas More, two of the most prosperous parishes in the diocese.
At first, Naumann determined to stand behind Finn’s assignments. That’s understandable on the surface, because Naumann shares Finn’s conservative philosophy and obviously wanted to honor Finn’s last major action.
On the other hand, digging in on the reassignments was unwise, with Finn receding in the rearview mirror and outrage swelling among the faithful.
Reacting to today’s news, Janet Redding, a St. Thomas More parishioner, sent me a one-word email: “Hallelujah!”
In a phone conversation later, Janet, a longtime friend, said: “I personally think a lot of Father Don, both as a person and a spiritual leader. He’s just been so great for this community. I’m glad he’s going to be with us a while longer.”
She also noted that last year Farnan donated a kidney to a young man he had never met…did so because he could and it was something he felt he needed to do.
“That’s the kind of role model he is,” Janet said.
Gerard Grimaldi, a member of St. Thomas More for about 18 years, said Farnan is the perfect blend of priest and pastor.
“Father Don has a special gift for relating to all in the parish,” Grimaldi said, “from the youth to the elderly.”
At Visitation, Rush sent an email to parishioners saying he had met with Naumann — at Naumann’s request — on Wednesday.
Archbishop Naumann said that he had received many communications from parishioners, both pro and con, regarding the pastoral appointments made by Bishop Finn and, in the case of Visitation, he thought the present climate could be an obstacle to the success of Father Rogers’ leadership.
The Archbishop stated that I could still move to the apartment I have leased in Fairway and commute the two miles to Visitation. He said there would probably be a priest-in-residence (one who works full time elsewhere but may help with some parish Masses) living in the priest residence here.
A Visitation parishioner who declined to be quoted by name because he didn’t want to take sides publicly said the announced transfer of Rogers had been “very polarizing.” The parishioner applauded Naumann for reversing Finn’s most controversial reassignments, saying, “It was a prudent decision.”
As a former Catholic, a former Visitation parishioner and a longtime admirer of Don Farnan, I second that emotion.
In my view, it’s a good day for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It’s a positive and important first step toward mending a diocese that a rogue bishop figuratively hacked apart with a cleaver.
And it’s an even better day for the good and faithful parishioners at Visitation and St. Thomas More.