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Posts Tagged ‘Bishop Robert Finn’

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.”

WHAT? SAY THAT AGAIN — SHE DIDN’T KNOW IF FINN GOT THE MEMO?

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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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.

Ratigan

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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