Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Pope's comment about bishop investigations raises questions in Kansas City
Judy L. Thomas Kansas City Star May 27, 2014 This much seems clear: The Vatican is investigating three bishops over issues relating to child sexual abuse. Beyond that, however, comments made by Pope Francis to reporters during a Monday flight from the Holy Land to Rome have left the world wondering about who those bishops are and what they did. Some, both in Kansas City and elsewhere are speculating that Bishop Robert Finn is one of them. “If I were Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, I’d be nervous,” wrote Mark Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Connecticut, on a Religion News Service blog on Tuesday. Finn, after all, is the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic Church official convicted of criminal charges related to child sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. But others, including a spokesman for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, doubted the pope was referring to Finn. “The diocese has had no indication of any investigation of Bishop Finn,” Jack Smith said in an email Tuesday. Finn was convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspicions of child abuse involving the Rev. Shawn Ratigan. He was placed on two years of court-supervised probation. Ratigan was convicted of child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Pope Francis’ remarks came as the pontiff returned home from a three-day visit to the Middle East. He told reporters that he would meet soon with a small group of sex abuse victims and declared “zero tolerance” for any cleric who would violate a child. Then the pope revealed that “at the moment, there are three bishops under investigation.” “One has already been found guilty and we are now considering the penalty to be imposed,” he said, adding that there would be no “daddy’s boys” who received preferential treatment when it came to child abuse. It was not clear, however, if the bishops to whom the pope was referring had been accused of committing abuse themselves or whether they’d been accused of mishandling allegations of abuse against other priests. (Slightly differing translations of the comments also exist.) “The fact that they’re investigating bishops, that’s actually good news for the people who have been pressuring the church to take this more seriously,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and former chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth. “They’re doing the right thing. But goodness gracious, why not be more clear about it?” Cafardi said he doubted that Finn was among the three bishops under investigation. “Given the lowball number the pope is using, he must be talking about bishops who have directly abused youngsters,” he said. The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter publication and author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,” said the pope’s comments were significant. “We’re going to have to wait and see what happens,” he said. “But at least we have an indication he’s taking seriously that bishops have to be held accountable.” Reese said it was “totally unclear” whether Bishop Finn is one of those being scrutinized. Though the pope said one of the bishops had already been convicted but was awaiting punishment, he could have been talking about a procedure involving canon law, he said. “That doesn’t sound like Finn, because he’s already been punished under civil law,” Reese said. But Silk, in a commentary Tuesday, suspected Finn might have been among those mentioned by the pope. “Finn, of course, is the one bishop on God’s green earth who has been convicted of failing to report a suspected case of child abuse by a priest,” Silk said. “And so far, he has received not so much as a verbal rap on the knuckles from either the Vatican or his fellow bishops. “Now, it seems, a punishment is in the works.” Some Catholics have been calling for Finn’s removal ever since Ratigan’s arrest. In February, a group of Roman Catholics based in Kansas City took the rare step of petitioning Pope Francis to discipline Finn. The formal request, initiated by a Milwaukee priest and parishioners in the Kansas City area, was sent to the Vatican along with an online petition on Change.org signed by more than 113,000 people worldwide asking for the bishop’s removal.