The priest’s crimes, known to diocesan officials in Kansas City, included photographing the genitals of an infant girl so young that she still wore a diaper.
Yet he was allowed by Bishop Finnto continue ministering to children, albeit on a “trial” basis. No one in the community, or in the priest’s family, received warning of the extraordinary and on-going danger.
This occurred not in 1911, 1961, 1991 or even 2001.
These crimes occurred in 2011, long after the priest abuse scandal exploded, revealing a cancerous response to child sex abuse within the Roman Catholic hierarchy that has rocked the Church from Rome to Dublin to, well, Kansas City.
It’s important, as always, to note that clergy, Roman Catholic and otherwise, are no more likely to be sexual predators than anyone else. The vast, overwhelming majority of men called to religious life are good, noble, and caring.
The on-going crisis here is, rather, the response of the Church’s vast bureaucracy, which has often appeared to place institutional concerns — money, careers, prestige and public relations– above the welfare and safety of kids.
In this latest debacle in Kansas City, Bishop Finn said, according to the New York Times, “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.”
Note the passive, impersonal construction of that sentence. Not the “hurt that I have caused” but a muddled hand-wringing about “events.” That’s hardly confidence-building for a man whose entire career is built around a claim to moral clarity.
One of the startling nuances of this case, which sets it apart from other pedophile-priest cover-ups, is that all sides agree on the facts of the matter.
There is no dispute about what the church hierarchy new or when they knew it. All parties signed and submitted a set of stipulated facts to the judge.
We know, for example, that Bishop Finn was urged repeatedly by several members of his staff to turn the predator in their midst over to police. We know that as early as 2010, parents were alerting church officials about their fears.
We know that in the end a brave church official waited until Bishop Finn was out of town and then, acting on his own courageous initiative, called the cops.
It’s also noteworthy that Bishop Finn only appointed an official diocese “ombudsman” — in fact, a woman — to improve protections for children a month after his subordinate ratted out the pedophile whom the Bishop had been protecting.
Which brings us to the questions raised by this matter:
1. What were Bishop Finn’s motivations? Long after one would think that American bishops were experts on the moral and legal implications of a predator priest in their employ, this bishop sat on his hands. Why? And does that have implications for other dioceses across the US?
2. Why does Bishop Finn still have a job? The Church has known for months (at last) about Bishop Finn’s behavior and the long chain of astonishing decisions that left so many innocent children vulnerable. Yet he still holds a position of awesome moral, spiritual and administrative authority. His parishioners deserve to know what this means.
3. Who in the Church hierarchy knew about Bishop Finn’s decisions? The US Bishops have coordinated their responses to the child sex scandal for years; and the Vatican has been heavily involved. Did Bishop Finn keep this horrible business secret from his higher-ups? If not, parishioners should know how they responded.
I know that many Catholics, particularly within the clergy and the religious orders, view this kind of thing as anti-Church, a kind of religious bigotry.
On the contrary. We need a strong, vibrant, active and morally confident Roman Catholic church, here in the North Country and around the world.
And it’s also not a question of making an example of Bishop Finn, as some have suggested. It is, rather, simply a question of whether the Church finally has its priorities straight.
Church leaders from Rome to Ogdensburg have made significant strides in recovering from the scandal, improving their focus on child safety and in their cooperation with civil authorities.
Bishop Finn’s actions, unless properly explained, will leave new and significant doubts in people’s minds.