Posts Tagged ‘Bishop Robert Finn’

Three things in particular have cropped up in the news in recent days that call out for closer inspection under the JimmyC microscope:

Charlie Wheeler’s financial dilemma

The amazing parallel between the Rutgers and Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese scandals

The Star’s telling story about why MGE didn’t shut off the gas valve to JJ’s


I’m proud to call Charlie Wheeler a good friend. I admired him and wrote a few stories about him during his years as mayor, from 1971-1979. Since retiring in 2005, I have worked as a volunteer in two of his last three political campaigns: county executive in 2006 and state treasurer in 2008. In the 2011 mayoral race, while working as a volunteer for Mike Burke, I helped arrange for Wheeler, who was also in the race, to throw his support to Burke shortly before the primary election. Burke, in one of the slickest political moves I’ve ever seen, also managed to reel in former mayors Dick Berkley and Kay Barnes. It wasn’t enough, of course, as Sly James, with his big personality and big head start, went on to beat Burke handily.

I learned several years ago that Charlie didn’t pay close attention to his finances, preferring instead to roam about town as an ambassador at large and dispenser of witty and insightful political observations.


Photo by JimmyCsays

As far as I can tell, while Charlie helped quite a few people get rich (or richer) while he was mayor, such as the late Frank Morgan and lawyer I.I. (Double I) Ozar, he never made a dime off politics, other than his salary. He’s similar, in that respect, to the late, great House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who was one of the two or three most powerful men in politics for years but died with about $25,000 to his name.

So, last week, out comes the story on page A4 of The Star, saying that Wheeler is facing the loss of his home on 53rd Street, just west of Loose Park. He has fallen way behind on his house payments, particularly taxes and homeowner’s insurance, and the house is scheduled to be sold on the courthouse steps this week.

He and his wife, Marjorie, who is an invalid, are supposedly moving into a duplex on Pennsylvania, which, I understand, might be owned by a friend.

My arm’s length observation on the situation is that regardless of how beloved a person is or how clean his reputation is, he’s still gotta write the checks for what he owes. My less-than-arm’s-length observation is that I sure hope this turns out OK for Charlie and Marjorie and that we don’t see a photo in The Star of their personal property stacked up on the curb of West 53rd Street.

Charlie, if you’re reading this, listen to me: One story is enough.


I trust that most of you are aware of the situation at Rutgers University, where the athletic director, Tim Pernetti, failed last year to fire basketball coach Mike Rice after he was made aware of videos that showed Rice physically and verbally abusing players during practices. The Rutgers president, Robert Barchi, subsequently went along with Pernetti’s decision to fine Rice $75,000 and suspend him for three games. The key thing here is that Barchi did not view the videos, or at least says he didn’t.


Robert Barchi

The shit hit the fan last week, however, after ESPN got ahold of the videos. The clips prompted an immediate outcry, and late last week Pernetti resigned and Barchi was clinging to his job. He was apparently spared because he had not actually seen the videos. (It should be noted that some faculty members are continuing to call for his head.)

I was in Philadelphia over the weekend — Rutgers is close by in New Jersey — and I read everything I could get my hands on about the scandal. In Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, a sports columnist named Bob Ford explained in a single sentence how Barchi managed to slip the noose:

“One does not become a university president without cultivating a close relationship with deniability.”

I had already been thinking how closely the Barchi-Pernetti situation mirrored the scandal surrounding Bishop Robert Finn last year.  After it surfaced that the Rev. Shawn Ratigan had surreptitiously taken pornographic photos of elementary school girls at the parish where he was pastor in Kansas City, North, Finn attempted to shift the blame to Vicar General Robert Murphy, saying that he himself never saw the photos and that he relied on Murphy’s assessment that the photos were not pornographic.

In other words, Finn gave himself deniability.

That didn’t fly with a Jackson County Circuit Court judge, of course, who found Finn guilty of a misdemeanor charge of failing to report child abuse. Now, Finn, who is on probation for two years, stands as the most senior Catholic official convicted in the church’s long-running child sex-abuse scandal.

Nevertheless, Finn has refused to resign, even after ruining the reputation of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. Like Barchi, he’d rather carry on tattooed with shame than bow out gracefully and allow his organization to start afresh with new leadership.


The Star’s “Mr. Energy,” reporter Steve Everly, confirmed for readers on Sunday why MGE did not shut off the gas valve to JJ’s restaurant before the Feb. 19 explosion that killed server Megan Cramer and injured several others. The reason? It would have been costly and time consuming to restore service to customers in the area.

Restoring service involves utility employees going around from house to house, business to business, relighting pilot lights.

Everly wrote:

“Instead of shutting the valves when the smell of gas was in the air before the February blast that leveled JJ’s restaurant, Missouri Gas Energy waited for a backhoe to arrive from Raymore — more than 20 miles away — in a failed attempt to vent the leak.”

God help us…We’re on our own, aren’t we?

MGE employees tell a fire department crew that they have the situation “under control” — meaning they’re sitting on their hands waiting for a backhoe — and the firefighters get on the truck and drive off. All the while, several sitting ducks, mostly JJ’s employees, go about their business having no idea what’s in store for them.

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Lots of news today. Let’s get right to it…

:: The New York Times reports that “Grandpa Joe” Paterno “transferred full ownership of his house to his wife, Sue, for $1 in July, less than four months before a sexual abuse scandal engulfed his Penn State football program and the university.”

Hmmm. Now, why would Pa-Pa want to put into his wife’s name the house that they had jointly owned since 1969?

The Times quoted Wick Sollers, a lawyer for Pa-Pa, as saying that the Paternos had been engaged in a “multi-year estate planning program” and that the transfer was “simply one element of that plan.”

The Times also interviewed Lawrence A. Frolik, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in elder law.

“I can’t see any tax advantages,” The Times quoted Frolik as saying. “…It sounds like an attempt to avoid personal liability in having assets in his wife’s name.”

Looks like Grandpa Joe did what any guy would do if he’s expecting a run on his bank account — disperse the assets.

:: Closer to home, The Star reports that Bishop Robert Finn slipped the criminal noose in Clay County and has agreed to enter into a diversion program with the Clay County prosecutor for covering up the Shawn Ratigan child-porn case for at least five months.

The agreement calls for Finn “to meet face to face” with Clay County Prosecutor Daniel L. White or his successor every month for the next five years “to discuss any allegations of child sex abuse levied against clergy or diocesan staff within the diocese’s Clay county facilities.”

That would include churches, schools, gyms, among other buildings.

Don’t you just love it that the mighty bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph is going to have to report to the prosecutor like a wayward kid would report to the principal? The bishop, who has dozens of many minions at his disposal at diocesan headquarters, 20 W. Ninth St., trucking up to Liberty once a month, with his big hat in his hand? SWEEEET!

I fully expect Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker to follow suit and put Finn in a separate diversion program. That means he’d have to grab his mitre and staff and head to the Jackson County Courthouse once a month, too.

Finn couldn’t have screwed things up any more than he did with the Ratigan case, but I bet he’s going to be a model enforcer from now on…Of course, he’s still a disgrace and would leave office if he really cared about the institution and people he’s supposed to be serving.

:: The Star also reports that Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters lost its battle to get full, retroactive, city pension benefits for about 300 ambulance workers who formerly worked for MAST. (MAST received city funds but was not directly under its jurisdiction.)

An arbitrator ruled that the city would not have to provide pensions that had been estimated to cost $30 million over 10 years. In June, the City Council voted to give the employees supplemental pensions estimated to cost $6 million to $10 million over 20 years. So, if the ruling holds, taxpayers should be off the hook for at least $20 million.


It’s not often that Local 42 and its president, Louie Wright, don’t get what they want. But just about any time they don’t, it means Kansas Citians should celebrate because tax money is being saved.

For his part, Louie told The Star’s Lynn Horsley that he was “extremely disappointed.” Naturally, a lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court is a possibility.

With Louie and Local 42, it’s never over until all remedies have been exhausted.

:: Now here’s something unusual. Louisville football Coach Charlie Strong said that the Cardinals lost to Pittsburgh last Saturday because the players were “more focused on a video game than they were on Pittsburgh.”

A new video game — “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” — was released recently, and Strong said the players got preoccupied with the game, instead of the game.

The things coaches have to deal with these days….

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The subject of today’s post is my favorite dartboard figure, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn.

To get into it, I’m going to borrow the template of local sports commentator and blogger Greg Hall, who has made a name for himself locally with his “Off the Couch” columns.

Greg’s schtick is quoting what somebody says and following it with his own observations. As fuel for my bonfire, I’m going to use Sunday’s lead story in The Kansas City Star, which appeared under this headline: “How Will KC Diocese Heal?”

The story was written by Judy Thomas, Mark Morris and Glenn E. Rice, all of whom have covered aspects of the child-porn case of Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a priest who is charged with felonies for allegedly taking and distributing lewd photos of young girls.

On Friday, Finn and the Kansas City diocese were indicted on misdemeanor charges related to his and the diocese’s failure to report, for five months, reasonable suspicions of child abuse. If convicted, Finn could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined up to $1,000.

So, here we go with a special edition of JimmyCsays. (All introductory quotes were taken directly from people whom the reporters interviewed.)

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty, a member of St. Louis Parish on Swope Parkway: “I think he has taken action. I don’t know more of what he can do…I believe that Bishop Finn demonstrated integrity and Christ-like virtue in repeatedly admitting his failure and undertaking significant change throughout the diocese.”

JimmyC: What more could Finn have done? Uh, how about getting his head out of the sex-abuse sand and vowing, when he became bishop six years ago, that he would not tolerate it in his diocese? As for “undertaking significant change,” yes, he definitely has done that. Unfortunately, it has involved railing against abortion and drawing a sharp, horizontal line between the clergy (the top layer of Finn’s cake) and the laity (the lowest layer).

(P.S. I’m pretty sure that Dougherty is former director of DeLaSalle Education Center.)

Jason Berry

Jason Berry, author of “Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church: “His credibility is shot. But I would be very surprised if Finn is withdrawn. The pattern is they dig in their heels and stand by their man.”

JimmyC: Tammy Wynette couldn’t have said it better. The International Business Times quoted a Vatican spokesman as saying Sunday that Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican would not attempt to interfere with the legal process. “We have no intention of intervening in that procedure,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said. “Any intervention could be interpreted as interference.” Yes, the Vatican would hate to involve itself in a case that affects the most vulnerable of God’s children.

Becky Summers, diocesan spokeswoman: “(Finn) continues to perform his pastoral duties with energy, dedication and enthusiasm…As part of his pastoral duties, he meets with priests every day. And, I would imagine that he will be discussing (the criminal allegations) with them.”

JimmyC: And here’s how one of those conversations might go…Priest: “Say, bishop, what’s up with that criminal charge against you?” Bishop Finn: “It’s a bunch of bullshit, Father. I’m continuing to perform my pastoral duties with energy, dedication and enthusiasm. Now, get back to preaching against abortion.”

Pat O'Neill

Pat O’Neill, public relations consultant and a member of Visitation Parish: “My guess is that (diocesan) fundraising is in limbo and will remain that way until there’s some resolution in the criminal case, and some definitive determination of what happens to Bishop Finn.”

JimmyC: Do you hear that thunderous, clapping sound? It’s Catholic wallets slamming shut.

Jim Caccamo, chairman of the diocese’s Independent Review Board: “Most of our priests are honorable, trustworthy, loving, committed me who have served the church and the parishioners for years. It has got to make them feel terribly sad.”

JimmyC: Many of them undoubtedly do feel that way, and most in that group probably are liberal priests whom Finn has relegated, for the most part, to small and remote parishes.

Carolyn Cook, a Kansas City Catholic: “Moving him somewhere else won’t help. He needs to be taken from the church. He’s an educated person and can go teach.”

JimmyC: A-men.

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When a scandal is broken open, like the one with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and, closer to home, the one involving the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, you expect to see certain developments.

Those developments usually include firings, resignations and sometimes criminal charges.

In the case of Murdoch’s News Corp. and its employees’ phone hacking, paying off police and compromising politicians who were intimidated by the powerful Murdoch dynasty, we’ve seen just that.

Two top Scotland Yard officials have resigned, including the Metropolitan police commissioner; two of News Corp.’s top executives — Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton — have resigned; and 10 people, including Brooks, have been arrested.

Today, New York Times’ media reporter David Carr wrote in his column that  “the flames of the scandal edge closer to Mr. Murdoch’s door.”

The dominoes are falling even though Murdoch hurried over to England from the U.S. and began apologizing all over the place. In a letter that was published in all British papers over the weekend, Murdoch said his company and its English subsidiary, News International, had not come to grips with its excesses promptly. “We are sorry,” his letter began.

It’s fitting, of course, that apologies are not enough. Murderers and corrupt executives apologize all the time, but most still go to prison, and some are ordered to compensate their victims.

But look at how it goes in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Bishop Robert Finnochio (I’d love to take credit for the name, but that goes to a friend who shall be unnamed) has apologized several times for failing to report to police, for many months, the fact that a parish priest had taken and electronically stored upskirt photos of little girls at a parish school in the Northland.

Bolstering the computerized evidence was the statement (more than a year ago) of a school principal who said that a parent had reported finding a pair of girl’s panties inside a planter in the priest’s back yard.

As I have said before, this is a true scandal — even though The Kansas City Star has not had the courage to tag it so.

Many Catholics in the diocese, particularly the parents of children who have been “exposed” to the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, the offending priest, are seething. A chorus of calls has come for the bishop to be prosecuted and to resign.

The bishop has apologized:

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

“I must acknowledge my own failings…As bishop I owe it to people to say things must change.”

“As bishop, I take full responsibility for these failures and sincerely apologize…for them. Clearly, we have to do more.”

Fine, but what about the loss of confidence in his leadership? How can he possibly be trusted to do the right thing in the future?

And, in the larger picture, what about the Catholic Church’s proven habit of overlooking priest sexual abuse in the hopes of salvaging clerical careers?

In his column, Carr, of The Times, quoted a lawyer for the family of a phone hacking victim as saying, “This is not just about one individual but about the culture of an organization.”

It seems to me that the lawyer could just as easily have been describing the Catholic Church in general and the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in particular.

And, still, life at the Vatican in Rome and at 20 W. Ninth Street in Kansas City go on the same as ever.

At the 20 W. Ninth building, which the diocese purchased last year, workers are finishing up Bishop Finnochio’s spacious and elegant living quarters on the third floor. He’s obviously not planning on going anywhere soon and not too worried about being kicked out of his job, which only the Pope can do.

Since he’s going to be with us for a while, I think he should direct the construction workers to install a very wide mirror in his bathroom so he can check out the end of his nose when he gets up every morning and before he goes to bed every night.

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Today’s blog entry starts with a joke:

This guy dies and finds himself outside the Pearly Gates, at the end of a snaking, miles-long line of people who are awaiting their final accounting with St. Peter.

The people in line are understandably nervous, wringing their hands, wiping their brows, standing on tiptoes and craning their necks to see what’s going on up front.

St. Peter

All of a sudden, like an earthquake starting deep in the earth, the sound of thunderous cheers and jubilation begins rolling through the line. The joy is so overwhelming that people in line are getting knocked off their feet as the celebration ripples backward.

Our guy is one of those knocked down…He jumps up and screams hysterically, “What is it? What is it?”

A jubilant voice can be heard over the cacophony: “They’re not countin’ fuckin! They’re not countin’ fuckin!”


I’m sorry if that offended any of you, but there’s a point to it:

The Catholic Church has been so myopic over the years about issues like pre-marital sex and abortion that it lost sight of the importance of protecting children and the need to identify and cull out bad-apple priests.

In a way, I hate to keep harping on the latest priest-impropriety scandal in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, but Bishop Robert Finn’s parrying and counter punching cry out for comment. (Also, it sells…I mean, it gets a lot of views.)

First, the bishop appointed former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the botched handling (by Finn) of the Father Shawn Ratigan child-porn case. Then, he appointed a vicar for clergy, a new position. Last week, he created another new position — ombudsman and public liaison officer — and appointed a former assistant Jackson County prosecutor.

My first reaction to this flurry of activity at 20 W. Ninth is that those of you who are looking for work might want to consider applying at the diocese. Looks like jobs aplenty down there.

I have also learned that the bishop has ordered that all diocesan employees get refresher training in a program called Protecting God’s Children, which many dioceses adopted several years ago to ensure safe environments in all parishes, schools, and diocesan programs.

The diocese website says of the program, “The focus of the FREE training is to increase awareness about the nature of child sexual abuse.”

Now, all I can figure on this retraining mandate is that it’s the old trickle-up theory: Finn must be hoping that by putting the employees through more rigorous training, the environment will become so sensitized that even he will be moved to protect God’s children.

Here’s the main reason all this foment out of diocesan headquarters is so laughable: It’s completely redundant.

As letter writer Jennifer Randle of Overland Park eloquently put it in today’s Kansas City Star:

“Why would anyone believe new procedures would help this diocese when the current ones, had they been followed, would have resulted in Father Shawn Ratigan’s activities being reported to the police when the leaders of the diocese first became aware there was a problem a year ago?”

She went on to say, “My thanks goes to The Star for giving this topic as much press as it has to point out that nothing has changed regarding the protection of priests who abuse children.”

Here’s Phase II of the story.

As I have said all along, I think nothing will really change with the church unless people vote with their feet and their wallets. When the money stops flowing, backing the hierarchy into a corner, the church will have to take drastic action.

Fortunately, there are indications that the cash funnel is narrowing. An Associated Press article on Page A12 of The Star today said that contributions to The Vatican fell nearly $15 million, or 18 percent, last year “amid tough economic times and the explosion of the priest sex-abuse scandal.”

Contributions to the Vatican from individual dioceses around the world were down from $31.5 million in 2009 to $27.36 million in 2010.

(On a positive note for the church, the report noted that the Vatican returned to profitability after three years in the red, but that simply indicates, to me, that the Vatican, like many organizations, has had to slash expenses.)

I believe the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese is going to see a sharp decline in contributions this year at the diocesan and parish levels. Many people, I think, will sharply curtail their giving, and, after a while, some of those who cut back their giving will leave the church.

A lot of Catholics, however, will feel compelled to remain true to the church because it’s such an integral part of their lives. And I think that one reason many of those “cultural” Catholics stay put is because, deep in their hearts, they believe the safest and surest path to eternal salvation is through “the one, true Church,” the one that has St. Peter as its foundation.

A lot of Catholics, while they believe that non-Catholics will also go to heaven, have that niggling fear that they shouldn’t leave that big, wide road they’ve been on all their lives; that any other road could lead somewhere scary.

Well now, I’m going to put on my big hat, take up my staff and speak ex cathedra — that is, invoking the doctrine of papal infallibility — and as a Catholic turned Disciple of Christ.

It’s OK to walk. Go in peace. Be not afraid.

There, that’s what JimmyC says on this Fourth of July, 2011, year of Our Lord.

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In the last four days, the picture has grown dimmer for Bishop Robert Finn, and the evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels of local Catholic hierarchy has grown stronger.

And all because of two articles in The Kansas City Star.

The first was a thoroughly researched and beautifully written profile of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who stands charged with three felony counts of possessing child pornography. It ran on Page 1 on Saturday.

The second was an “As I See It, ” Op-Ed piece by Pat O’Neill a respected marketing consultant in Kansas City. It ran on Page A-11 on Monday. O’Neill, a practicing Catholic, called for the resignations of Finn and Vicar General Robert Murphy, and he challenged prosecutors to bring charges against the two.

The profile and the opinion piece served as a one-two punch that took a lot of  steam out Bishop Finn’s time-killing initiative two weeks ago, when he appointed former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of sex-crimes cases, including the Ratigan case.



First, let’s look at the profile, which bore the by-lines of federal courts reporter Mark Morris and Northland reporter Glenn E. Rice. Rice has been on the Ratigan-Finn story from the start; this story represented Morris’ first work on the story.

Two of the main points that Morris and Rice established were, first, that Ratigan is — like Finn — a crusading, pro-life cleric, and, second, that Ratigan and Finn have spent time together.

The fact that they have more than a passing relationship could well indicate that after lewd photos of young girls were found in Ratigan’s laptop computer, Finn was loath to turn in a priest whom he knew quite well and who shared his pro-life stance. That’s been my conviction ever since Mike Rice, a former KC Star reporter, wrote a comment on this blog May 20, saying that he knew of people who had stopped attending Mass at Ratigan’s Northland parish because of his conservative ideology.

Regarding the Finn-Ratigan relationship, Morris and Rice dug up records revealing that in January 2007, Finn joined Ratigan and 40 high school students from St. Joseph for a bus ride to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life rally.

One of the most fascinating glimpses of Ratigan’s pro-life zeal was that he had his Harley-Davidson motorcycle decorated with themes that celebrated life.

“The gas tank bore the image of an angel bringing a baby down from heaven,” the story said, “while another spot carried a cross emblazoned with a ribbon reading, ‘Pro-Bikers for Life.’ ”

The entire story is a great read, but it contains, in particular, two killer paragraphs.

One is about Ratigan’s propensity to gamble. (He played the Missouri Lottery, for example.)

“In December 2010,” the story said, “whether he realized it or not, Ratigan placed one of the lowest percentage bets of his life when he handed his laptop computer to a repair person. Would the technician notice the allegedly lewd photos of girls under the age of 12? And if so, would he mention the photos to anyone?”

Wisely, the reporters let the questions hang in the air because everyone knows the answers.

The second memorable paragraph spelled out what happened after church officials seized Ratigan’s computer.

“The next day, Ratigan, the son of a man who suffered from profound depression, retreated to his garage, fired up the pro-life Harley and waited for death.”

We all know how that episode came out, too.


O’Neill’s column carries a tremendous wallop in no small measure because he is well known in Catholic circles and even served for a time as communications consultant to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.


In his piece, O’Neill showed that he, too, can turn a phrase. Consider this:

“When Bishop Finn arrived here in 2005, he was one of a new wave of American bishops charged with turning the tide of public opinion away from the abuse scandals and back to core conservative Catholic values and respect for the church and its priestly vocations. Instead, Bishop Finn is up to his collar in a flood of renewed scrutiny and anger.”

O’Neill went on to point out that despite hundreds of reports of priest sexual abuse over the last two decades, “only a handful of pedophile priests and no complicit church supervisors have been subjected to civil punishment, i.e., jail time.”

The column concluded with a flourish:

“The time has come for us to harness our collective anger and embarrassment and use that energy to change the way our church and our dioceses operate, once and for all.

“After all these years, it is starkly obvious to me that there will be no change for the better in the Kansas City diocese until men like Bishop Robert Finn and his Vicar General Robert Murphy are forced to resign, and criminals in collars are subject to secular trial and incarceration.”

In the p.r. battle that is being waged between Bishop Finn and his supporters on one hand and his critics on the other, the advantage has once again shifted to the critics, partly because of a great news story and a damn good p.r. man.

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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.

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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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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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