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Why Bishop Finn deserves indictment

As you may know, Kansas City Catholic Bishop Robert Finn was indicted the other day on misdemeanor charges related to failure report child pornography found on a priest’s laptop to authorities. On the comments thread of my initial post on this news, my friend (and Catholic) Leroy Huizenga cites an angry blog post from a […]

As you may know, Kansas City Catholic Bishop Robert Finn was indicted the other day on misdemeanor charges related to failure report child pornography found on a priest’s laptop to authorities. On the comments thread of my initial post on this news, my friend (and Catholic) Leroy Huizenga cites an angry blog post from a Catholic source who believes Bp Finn has been unjustly attacked by a pro-abortion prosecutor, and wonders (Leroy does) if I’m going to end up “backtracking” on my approval of the Finn indictment.

Leroy is a serious man and a serious Christian. His concern prompted me to go to the Diocese of Kansas City’s website and read the relevant sections of the diocese’s independent investigative commission report — that is, those having to do with the case of Father Shawn Ratigan, now under federal child pornography indictment, whose case led to Bp Finn’s indictment by a grand jury for failing to report the diocese’s discovery of child porn on his laptop to police as the law requires.

Having gone over the facts of the case as presented by the diocese’s own investigative panel, I am completely confident that this indictment was merited, and that the idea that this represents some sort of liberal-secularist attack on the Church, and especially on Bishop Finn for being a doctrinal conservative, is baseless. The only serious question I have about the indictment is why the grand jury did not indict Msgr Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general, who comes across as the real bad guy in all this. Nevertheless, the evidence put forward in the diocese’s own investigation — which is not, let me make clear, the same thing as the grand jury investigation — gives clear cause, to my mind, justifying Bp Finn’s indictment, and the indictment of the diocese (because this was a systemic failure, not merely a personal failure by the bishop). What is most shocking is how Bp Finn and Msgr Murphy (especially!) seemed focused only on a narrow reading of the law in what was plainly an effort to avoid having to go to the police with the Ratigan case. In other words, they had what they clearly suspected was a child sexual predator in their clergy — which is why, apparently, they told him to stay away from kids and stay off the Internet — but didn’t tell the police because they assumed that because all the photos of little girls’ vaginas found on the priest’s laptop didn’t depict actual sex acts, they weren’t technically compelled to report this to the cops. They were wrong about that, but the legalistic mindset here is jaw-dropping in its lack of concern for the welfare of children.

I’m going to discuss this in a bit more detail below the jump. Fair warning: I’m going to quote passages from the diocese’s investigative report to show why I believe this indictment was just. There are some explicit details about the photographs found on the laptop — details that some of you may not want to read about. If not, don’t click past this jump. One thing you should know, though, if you don’t read any further. The diocese is claiming that it did in fact alert police in a timely fashion about what was on the laptop. This is based on an informal phone call that Msgr Murphy, the vicar general, had with a high-ranking police official who was also on the diocese’s Independent Review Board (IRB), in which he described — not showed, described — a single image found on the laptop, and asked the cop if that constituted child pornography. The description prompted a general opinion from the police captain that no, a photo like the one Msgr Murphy described would not fit the definition of child pornography. The diocesan investigators later found that that conversation was likely the key to the diocese’s behavior in all that followed. That is to say, Msgr Murphy relied on a general opinion given to him by a police officer who had not seen the image in question, and who had no idea that hundreds of images had been found on Fr Ratigan’s laptop, drive its decision to keep the troubling situation with Fr Ratigan from the authorities. It is plain to me that Msgr Murphy was desperate to find any reason at all not to turn over this child porn fiend priest to the cops. What’s more, after Bp Finn and others in diocesan leadership learned the full extent of Fr Ratigan’s pornographic trove, they ought to have immediately realized their initial error, and rectified it. It appears, though, that they relied instead on legalism, as opposed to a common-sense reading of the law, to avoid doing what they plainly ought to have done.

Why do I say this? Read on for a description of the photographs found on Fr Ratigan’s laptop, and how it was handled. If you aren’t willing to inform yourself of the details of this case, I understand; it’s awful to contemplate. But do then refrain from saying that Bp Finn is being hounded unfairly by anti-Catholic bigots. If you read the details and draw that conclusion, I will disagree, but I will respect that you at least examined the evidence. But if you don’t familiarize yourself with the details — details from the diocese’s own investigation of itself — then your opinion is not worth much, IMHO.Here is what was found on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop, and how it was discovered. In December 2010, Fr Ratigan asked a computer technician to work on his computer. In so doing, the technician, Kes, found something disturbing, and showed it to a deacon in the parish (I apologize for the formatting problems; I can’t get the text from the report to reproduce cleanly):

Deacon  Lewis  and  Mr.  Kes  both  remember  that  as  Mr.  Kes  attempted  to  show Deacon  Lewis  what  he  had  found,  his  hands  were  shaking.    The  experienced  technician, nearly  unable  to  operate  the  laptop,  directed  Deacon  Lewis  to  the  nude  photo  he found.  According to Deacon Lewis, the picture showed a very young girl in a diaper, from the waist
down  to  approximately  the  knees,  with  the  diaper  pulled  away  to  expose  the  girl’s genitals.

Deacon  Lewis  advised  Mr.  Kes  that  he  would  take  care  of  the  computer and turn it over to the proper authorities.  At no time did any parish official tell Mr. Kes not to contact police.

Deacon Lewis got the laptop to Msgr Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general, who, according to the investigation, handled the matter this way. “Capt. Smith” is the police captain he phoned informally; “the Firm” is the law firm the diocese hired to conduct the investigation of the way it handled this affair:

Capt.  Smith  told  the  Firm  that  Msgr.  Murphy  informed  him  of  the  following  facts:  that a computer belonging to a priest contained a single picture of a nude girl; that it was a 87
family member  or  a  niece;  and  that  it was  not  a  sexual  pose.    However, Msgr. Murphy told  the Firm that based on his recollection, he did not tell Capt. Smith that the picture depicted
a priest’s niece or family member or that it was not a sexual pose.
Whatever  the  precise  facts  Capt.  Smith  received  from  Msgr.  Murphy, he felt unable
to provide an immediate answer and replied that he would have to make some inquiries
before  calling  back.    Capt.  Smith  turned  to  Sergeant  Mike  Hicks,  formerly  of  the  Crimes
Against Children Section, who advised him that a single photo in a non‐sexual pose might
meet  the  definition  of  child  pornography  but  would  not  likely  be  investigated  or

As the laptop was being delivered to the chancery, Msgr Murphy informed Bp Finn that they had a situation on their hands. Note well that Msgr Murphy called Capt Smith before he had received the laptop. At that point, Murphy only knew that a single nude image of a girl’s torso had been found on the laptop. That was about to change, once Julie Creech, the head of the diocese’s technology department, examined the laptop’s hard drive:

Ms.  Creech  found  hundreds  of  photographs  of  young  children,  primarily  girls.  Although  these were  clothed  images, she found them disturbing.  There were,  for  example, photographs  of  girls  in  swimsuits  climbing  up  the  ladder  of  a  slide  that  had  been  taken from  below,  focused  on  the  girls’  crotch  areas.    Other  photographs  had  been  taken  from
underneath  a  table,  focusing  on  girls’  crotch  areas.    Yet  other  photos  depicted short‐wearing girls who were in a squatting position with their legs spread apart, focused on the 90 girls’  crotch  areas.    According  to Ms.  Creech,  the  girls  in  these photos appeared to be from eight to ten years old.
Ms.  Creech  then  found  a  file  marked  “ – – – – – -.”    Opening  it,  she  found  a  group  of  “staged”  photos  of  a  very  young  girl  who  appeared  to  be  two  to  three years old. The first  photo  showed  a  little  girl,  face  visible,  standing  and  holding  a  blanket.    In  a  “staged sequence,”  the  photos  depicted  the  girl  lying  down  in  a  bed,  from  the  waist  down,  and

focused  on  the  crotch.   The  girl was wearing only  a  diaper,  but with each photo, the diaper was  moved  gradually  to  expose  her  genitals.    By  the  last  photo,  her  genitals  were  fully  exposed.  According to Ms. Creech, there were approximately six to eight pictures in this sequence  of  photos;  two  displayed  fully  exposed  genitals  and  one  displayed  her  fully exposed buttocks.  The little girl’s face was not visible in the  staged  sequence,  but  due  to her  apparent  physical  size  and  the  fact  the  photos  were  in  the  same  file,  Ms.  Creech
assumed the photos were of the same little girl whose face appeared in the initial picture.

Ms.  Creech  also  found  a  set  of  approximately  two  dozen  photos  of  a  sleeping  girl who  appeared  to  be  approximately  seven  to  eight  years  old.    The  girl’s  face  was  visible  in the photos.  In these photos, the girl’s position appeared to have been moved while she was sleeping.  Although the girl was fully clothed, Ms. Creech advised that she felt the photos were  disturbing  and  sexual  in  nature.    Ms.  Creech  was  not  able  to  determine  whether  the photographs had been taken by Fr. Ratigan or downloaded from the Internet because she did not have that forensic capability.  However, she noted the pictures had been named and
organized  in  a  manner  consistent  with  the  way  in  which  many  people  save  their  own original snapshots.

Creech told the Firm (that is, the investigators) that after reviewing this, she told Msgr Murphy to call the police. The diocese’s communications director was also informed of the problem, and says she told Murphy the same thing. Murphy says he doesn’t remember this.

The next day, Creech was so upset by what she found that she alerted her supervisor, and they reviewed the material together. They wrote a memorandum for Msgr Murphy, which read in part:

Julie found the following: hundreds of photos of girls mostly under the age of
10  with  some  clothing  (swimsuits,  underwear,  etc),  photos  of  one  female
between  2‐3  years  of  age  showing  full  vaginal  exposure  and  full  buttocks
exposure,  multiple  saved  Flickr  links,  multiple  links  to  young  female
Facebook  pages,  a  “favorite”  to  a  spy  pen  that  allows  you  to  take  photos
(looks like a ballpoint pen) and a “favorite” for two way mirrors (no longer a
valid website so we were not able to identify purpose of site).
In  the  hundreds  of  photos  it  became  obvious  the  viewer  is  focusing  on  the
female  pelvic  region.  It  is  also  obvious  that  some  photos  were  taken from a
camera positioned under a table in which girls were sitting in their swimsuits
or under playground equipment in which girls were climbing above.  There is
also a photo with a little girl sleeping and someone has changed the location
of her hand  and  clothing while  she  sleeps  to  take  the photos.    It  appears  that
4‐5 photos were downloaded while the others seem to have been taken from
a personal camera…

The photos of the 2‐3 year old female “‐‐‐‐‐‐” were in a separate folder titled
with  her  name.    These  photos  are  the  only  photos  that  were  found in which
you see full vaginal shots and a buttocks shot

Now, if you were the vicar general, and you had this information from your people, what would you think? What would you do? Wouldn’t you realize that Fr Ratigan was a seriously messed up priest, and that he was a clear and present danger to children? Wouldn’t you wonder whether any of the children in the photographs were kids from his own parish?

The next day, Fr. Ratigan attempted suicide. Msgr Murphy spoke to the bishop:

Msgr.  Murphy  told  the  Bishop  of  Fr. Ratigan’s suicide attempt, the situation with the laptop, and Ms. Creech’s findings, although
he  did  not  give  the  Bishop  a  copy  of  her  memorandum  and  it  is  not  clear  what  details
Bishop Finn was provided.  Bishop Finn states that he never viewed the photos from the
laptop, but they have been described to him. However, it appears that Msgr. Murphy did
tell Bishop Finn about his conversation with Capt. Rick Smith.

So, at this point — and remember, we’re talking about only a day or so after the discovery of the pornographic photographs — Bp Finn knows about the photos, but had not seen them. He knows that Murphy spoke to a police captain who told him that a photograph of a nude child does not in and of itself constitute child pornography under Missouri law.

Murphy then contacted the diocese’s lawyer, Jon Haden, provided the Creech memo, with some of the photographs she found, and requested his professional advice. Haden told the diocese that based on what he saw, this wasn’t child porn. The diocesan report, which was written by independent lawyers, indicates that this was terrible advice:

Sexually  explicit  conduct  is defined  at § 573.010(18).   The  term includes “lascivious
exhibition  of  the  genitals  or  pubic  area  of  any  person.”    The  federal  statutes defining child pornography and sexually explicit conduct mirror the Missouri statutes.135
Reported Missouri cases show that defendants  have  been  successfully  prosecuted  and  convicted  of
possession  of  child  pornography  for  pictures  focused  on  the  nude  genitalia  of  children,
even  where  the  children  were  not  engaged  in  sexual  acts136
.    Although  the  Firm  has  never viewed  the  images,  it  is  our  opinion  that  images  of  the  type  described by Ms. Creech and Ms.  Moss  would  constitute  the  “lascivious  exhibition  of  the  genitals”  of  at  least  one  very young girl.

More from the report:

In  his  interview,  Mr.  Haden  recalled  that  Msgr.  Murphy’s  sole  request  for  advice
related  to  the  question  of  whether  the  images  constituted  child  pornography.    Neither
Msgr.  Murphy  nor  the  Bishop  asked  him  what  they  should  do  regarding  the  laptop  or
whether  they  should  go  to  the  police.

Mr. Haden  further  questioned  whether  DFS [Division of Family Services]  had  been  notified  and  advised  that  DFS  should certainly  be  notified  if  any  of  the  children  were  from  the  Diocese.    According  to  Msgr. Murphy  and  Bishop  Finn,  no  steps  were  taken  to  identify  any  of  the  children  in  the photographs.  In addition, DFS was never notified.

Further, the IRB [the diocese’s Independent Review Board, which reviews accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct — RD] was not notified.  According to both Msgr. Murphy and Bishop Finn, the IRB was not notified because no identifiable victim was making a complaint.  Obviously,
however,  subjects  such  as  the  two  to  three  year‐old  child  in  the  nude  photo  were  in  no position  to make  a  complaint.    The  nature  of  the  photographs,  combined with  the  fact  that no  one  had  ruled  out  the  possibility  that  Fr.  Ratigan,  an  avid and frequent photographer, had  taken  at  least  some  of  them,  gave  rise  to  at  least  a  suspicion of  child  abuse  that  should have been investigated.

You see the legalism here? Bp Finn and Msgr Murphy, when confronted with strong evidence that they had a clerical pederast on their hands, and someone who easily might have photographed children in his own parishes, chose to take refuge in an absurdly narrow reading of the law. It seems to me that any normal man would, upon discovering this horrifying information, would seek out any legal means to take this pervert out. The idea that you even have to call your lawyer to ask if HUNDREDS of photos of children’s genitals found on the laptop of one of your priests technically constitute child pornography indicates how corrupted these churchmen’s minds are by clericalism and legalism. It would have been indefensible had this happened before 2002, and the Boston cases; in 2010 and 2011, it defies all rational explanation.

After Fr. Ratigan recovered from the suicide attempt, Bp Finn sent him to Pennsylvania for evaluation by the Catholic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, apparently (according to the report) having decided that he would figure out what to do with Fr. Ratigan based on what the psychiatrist said. Note well that this is a separate issue from whether or not the law compelled Bp Finn and the diocese to report its discovery to the authorities. Still, it’s significant. From the report:

Fr.  Ratigan  traveled  to  Pennsylvania  on  January  9,  2011,  for  his  initial  evaluation,
returning  to  Kansas  City  on  January  11,  2011.    Dr.  Fitzgibbons  received  a  faxed  copy  of
Principal  Hess’  report  regarding  Fr.  Ratigan’s  behavior  around  children.    Following  his
initial meetings with Fr. Ratigan, Dr. Fitzgibbons advised Bishop  Finn  that  Fr.  Ratigan  was
suffering from loneliness and depression caused in part by the fact that Principal Hess was
“out to get him.”

Several  weeks  later,  after  he  had  already  prepared  an  initial  conclusion,  Dr.
Fitzgibbons  requested  a  copy  of  the  laptop  pictures.    Bishop  Finn  contacted  Mr.  Haden
regarding the request and Mr. Haden then sent a CD of the pictures  to  Dr.  Fitzgibbons  via
Federal  Express.    Even  after  receiving  all  of  this  material,  Dr.  Fitzgibbons  seems  to  have
ultimately  advised  Bishop  Finn  that  Fr.  Ratigan  was  not  a  pedophile  and  that  his
pornography  problem  was  a  result  of  his  previously‐identified  depression.

Amazing. Principal Hess was the parochial school official who first reported Fr. Ratigan’s strange behavior around children to the diocese. Fr. Ratigan claimed at the time that she was persecuting him. And now, a psychiatrist concludes that the priest collected naked pictures of little girls not because he is a pedophile, but because he was depressed over his belief that his principal was picking on him. I’m not a mental health professional, obviously, and I haven’t seen the details of Ratigan’s case. But man, talk about legalistic hair-splitting!

Bishop Finn also decided not to tell his own Investigative Review Board, even though they were established precisely for this reason. Why not? And there’s this:

Moreover,  the  Diocese  made  no  effort  to  notify  the  parents  and  families  at  St.
Patrick’s Parish or other parishes were Fr. Ratigan had been assigned.  Bishop Finn advised
that  he  felt  that  notifying  the  parents  at  St.  Patrick’s  of  the  photos  found  on  the  laptop
“would be like yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

However,  as discussed  below,  the  lack of  notification  could  have  enabled  Fr.  Ratigan  to  continue  to  have contact with unwitting  parish families and children.

Think about that for a second. The diocese has discovered that the priest of St. Patrick’s parish had an extensive collection of naked photos of little girls — possibly including their own, given how Fr. Ratigan was known for constantly taking photographs. But the Bishop decided that neither these parents nor parents in other parishes where Fr. Ratigan had served, needed to know about the priest’s hobby, because that would cause moral panic. Damn right it would! They probably also would have demanded that the police become involved. Once again, as we have so many times, we see a Catholic bishop deciding on his own that the laity doesn’t need to learn any damaging information about their priests, information that is vital to the protection of their children from sexual predation, because keeping the laity in the dark is for their own good. Funny how the good of the ordinary people in the pews so neatly coincides with the good of their bishop, who preferred to keep things quiet and handle things quietly.

Bp Finn sent Fr Ratigan to live in a religious community. He told him to stay away from children, and to stay off the Internet. Of course Fr Ratigan flagrantly disobeyed. Finally, things reached a breaking point. From the report:

On April 19, 2011, Msgr. Murphy contacted Capt. Rick Smith [the police official Murphy had initially reached out to by phone] and advised him that he needed  to  discuss  an  issue  with  him  following  his  upcoming  knee  surgery.    According  to Capt.  Smith,  on  the  morning  of  May  11,  2011,  he  met  with  Msgr.  Murphy  to  discuss  the
issue, not knowing what it involved.  Msgr. Murphy opened the conversation by stating that
regarding  the  laptop,  “there  were  hundreds  of  photos.”    Capt.  Smith  stated  that  he  was
shocked  and  told  Msgr.  Murphy,  “that’s  not  what  you  told  me.”    Capt.  Smith  advised  him
that at this point, the Fr. Ratigan incident was a criminal matter and he needed to turn the
laptop  over  to  the  police.

The next day, not having heard from Msgr Murphy, Capt. Smith contacted the appropriate authorities, and this became a criminal matter. Independent investigators observed that even though Msgr Murphy was the main bad actor here, at every point in this process, anybody who knew what was on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop could have and should have called the police. Why didn’t they? They had it within their power, and within their responsibility, to inform the cops that they had hard physical evidence that Fr. Ratigan was a possible child sexual predator. They should have let the police sort out the legalities here. Plus, after all the revelations of the past 10 years of how an institutional culture of cover-up, denial, and buck-passing allowed hundreds of Catholic children and minors to be molested by priests, it never should have been a question in their minds to trust Bp Finn and Msgr Murphy to make this call.

When news broke, local Catholics were outraged. The diocese organized “listening sessions” to manage the public reaction, and had participants engage in an asinine Stuart Smalley-ish exercise in which they were instructed to write down a “hurt” and then write down a “hope.” Among the “hurts” written down by angry parents:

 “The  images  of  my  daughter’s  private  areas  that  the  FBI  showed  me,  they  are
forever  burned  into  my  brain.  …  Shawn  Ratigan  was  in  my  house,  around  my
children in February, and I thought my children were completely SAFE!!”

“You  let  one  of  your  priests  hurt  my  children  and  you  saw  the  pictures  and
decided to cover it up.  That monster was in my house in February 11’ to prey on
my children and I let him in, since you felt you were above the law and made that
decision not to turn in photos of my kids.”

Exactly. If the charges against Bishop Finn are proven in court, I hope the judge throws the book at him. Start putting these bishops in jail, and you’ll see this culture of legalism and clericalism dry up overnight. In Philadelphia earlier this year, a grand jury indicted the local version of Msgr Murphy for his role in covering up and reassigning alleged pederast priests. It was assumed by many that the local bishop at the time of the alleged offenses, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, ought to have been indicted, but that it was decided that going after an elderly cardinal in court was unacceptable, for whatever reason — perhaps because no US bishop had ever been indicted for his handling of clerical sexual misconduct involving children. That line has now been crossed in Kansas City. Good. Being a bishop does not make you above the law.

I have no idea what personal biases, if any, the Kansas City prosecutor has against the Roman Catholic Church. Based on the diocese’s own investigation (read the entire report here) of the Ratigan affair and a subsequent, less serious case, it seems plain to me that there is ample justification for an indictment. Whether it’s sufficient grounds for a conviction remains to be seen. Even if charges against Bishop Finn and his staff are not convicted of criminal offenses, the facts already known in this case are damning. Who can ever trust these people again? After all this time, how many do-overs do Catholic bishops expect?

UPDATE: According to a written report that Mrs. Hess, the Catholic school principal, filed with the Diocese when she formally complained about Fr. Ratigan’s behavior around children, Fr. Ratigan tried to protect himself by appealing to Catholic solidarity. He reportedly complained that “a teacher who’s not even Catholic is giving me trouble” about the way he behaves around children. We’ve got to stick together or the anti-Catholic bigots win! Classic.

UPDATE.2: In his analysis of the indictment and its historical context, the widely respected Catholic journalist John L. Allen writes:

If Finn is convicted of the Class A misdemeanor under Missouri law of “failure to report suspected child abuse,” he would, in a sense, be following in the footsteps of Bishop Pierre Pican of the Bayeux-Lisieux diocese in France, who was convicted of a similar charge a decade ago.

In 2001, Pican was charged under French law for failing to report allegations of child abuse against one of his priests. That priest was eventually sentenced to 18 years in jail for the repeated rape of a boy and sexual assaults on ten others, while Pican received a three-month sentence for not reporting what he knew to the police.

In court proceedings, Pican said that he became aware of the abuse through personal conversations with the priest, which he considered confidential.

The Pican case returned to the headlines in 2010, when it emerged that a former senior Vatican official, Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos of the Congregation for Clergy, had written a letter to Pican to congratulate him for refusing to denounce one of his own priests. In some quarters, the letter was touted as a “smoking gun” proving that the Vatican had encouraged bishops to cover up charges of abuse, though the Vatican insisted that wasn’t what it meant.

Incidentally, before he became a bishop, then-Father Finn edited the St. Louis archdiocesan newspaper. In that capacity, he refused an ad for a church lecture to be given by Allen and Robert Blair Kaiser, journalists affiliated with liberal Catholicism. Kaiser wrote at the time for Newsweek, and Allen was (and is) with the liberal National Catholic Reporter. Allen, as many of you will know, is well-respected by both liberals and conservatives in the Church for playing it straight in his reporting; some on the Church left have castigated him for not being more of a progressive advocate in his reporting. According to a report on the ad controversy:

“Perhaps the lecture was very, very good,” said Finn. “But we have a policy of rejecting anything that we think would not be helpful to our readers. So, it would be in my purview to make a decision like that on the lecture”

True enough. But some wondered why Father Finn approved ads for religious pilgrimages led by a Catholic priest who was defrocked over sex abuse charges, but continued to present himself to the faithful as “Father.”

UPDATE.3: I was wondering if Fr. Shawn Ratigan was a theological conservative, and if that might have had anything to do with the kid gloves with which Bishop Finn, also a theological conservative, treated him. I found this from a Kansas City Star report.

“Shawn was conservative,” Kerwin recalled. “He would say, ‘There was a wrong way and the church’s way.’ I would say to him, ‘The church was not always right.’

“He would say, ‘Michele, you just have to trust the church.’ ”

Yes, well. One of the earliest and most difficult lessons I learned in covering the abuse scandal is that you can never, ever tell the bad guys from the good guys based on whether or not they are faithful to the Magisterium — that is, whether or not they are orthodox Catholics. Would that you could! A very conservative priest told me early on not to make that mistake; there are scoundrels who hide behind their Catholic orthodoxy, he said, and use it to disarm the suspicions of the faithful. The late Father Richard John Neuhaus was one of the most intellectually sophisticated Catholics in the world, and a defender of Catholic orthodoxy. But he too was hoodwinked by this belief, most embarrassingly in his staunch defense of Father Marcial Maciel, of whom, Neuhaus wrote in First Things, he believed was “morally certain” was not guilty of the lurid sexual abuse accusations made against him. After Pope Benedict moved against Maciel, Neuhaus backed down. We later learned that things with Maciel were actually worse than most people knew.

Father Neuhaus was known for saying that the solution to the abuse crisis in the Church was “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.” And this was true, but a tautology. It’s like saying the solution to the crime problem is to obey the law. It is obviously true that if priests and others had been faithful to what the Church taught, none of this would have happened. The real question is, why did bishops and other churchmen who perfectly well knew that child molestation was a grave sin and crime turn a blind eye to it, literally or in effect? I take it that Bishop Finn, since 2004 a member of the priestly order affiliated with Opus Dei, the strongly conservative religious order, believes in “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.” But how much good did that do the children and families in the conservative Father Shawn Ratigan’s parishes? Liberal or conservative, we always find ways to justify the clay feet our ideological allies. When the progressive Catholic hero Bishop Rembert Weakland was found to have had a boyfriend to whom he funneled tens of thousands of dollars, certain leftie Catholics rationalized going easy on Weakland, who was, in their view, right about so many important things that we should overlook or minimize his wrongdoing. Once I was told by a Catholic insider that a particular conservative Catholic publication well knew that Bishop X. was bad news on tolerating sexual misconduct among a hyper-orthodox religious order (which was later dismantled), but they refrained from calling him out in their publication because Bishop X. was known as a supporter of the Latin mass. The conservative Catholic blogger Mark Shea has been calling out supporters of the pro-life activist priest Fr. Frank Pavone, who has gotten crossways of his bishop because the bishop has put some apparently reasonable restrictions on Fr. Pavone as he tries to sort out Fr. Pavone’s finances with respect to his role as an activist. Some of Pavone’s more fanatical supporters have turned on the bishop with the sort of invective you expect from foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Catholics. For them, Fr. Pavone can’t have done wrong, because he’s done so much good work on behalf of the unborn. Et cetera.

UPDATE.4: From today’s KC Star:

Jim Fern of Overland Park said news coverage of the scandal has only fanned the controversy.

“I will continue to follow the example of Jesus and forgive them for their human failings,” he said.

Fern praised Finn for championing traditional Catholic values and said steps already have been taken to resolve sex abuse problems.

“Our church has tended in recent years to get very lenient about things and I happen to be a conservative and he has done a lot to restore a conservative attitude towards our faith,” Fern said.


UPDATE.5: Back in June, when the independent report came out in Kansas City, Deacon Greg Kandra reported on his blog that a Kansas City man who had been studying for the diaconate decided not to accept ordination as a result of Bishop Finn’s scandalous failure. The man wrote to his parish, where he’d been for 30 years:

Because of the recent disclosure of failures within the diocese to protect the people of St. Patrick Parish from harm, I cannot promise respect or obedience that is a part of the diaconate ordination. To me this breakdown in the system that was put in place to protect God’s children is inexcusable.

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that I will not be able to serve Holy Family Parish as your deacon.

In other words, he could not promise obedience to a bishop he could not trust.




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