The Church and Bishop Finn

Late last week, a judge in Missouri found Bishop Robert Finn guilty of failing to disclose that church officials knew that one of their priests was a predator targeting very young girls.

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.



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19 Comments on “The Church and Bishop Finn”

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  1. Larry says:

    I cannot imagine any explanation for the Bishop’s actions other than an institutionalized acceptance of pedophilia at worst or an imbecilic belief that sexual molestation of children can be “handled” in-house at best. Either way, the Catholic Church hierarchy, in the US and elsewhere, has repeatedly concealed criminal behavior of the most disgusting kind. Any and all instances of suspected pedophilia shoud be immediately reported to the proper authorities – no excuses, explanations or rationalizations. That this behavior continues after all the revelations of abuse and cover-up and that the Catholic Church continues to exist in its present form beggars belief.

  2. “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.”

    And why did the several members of the staff wait? That they did suggests that they feared retribution for doing what was a moral obligation. That speaks poorly of the institutional culture of the church.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    Brian – its hard to avoid the conclusion that the Catholic Church, for whatever reason, does, in fact, have a higher percentage of sexual predators in the priesthood than the population at large. And, part of the problem seems to be their institutional acceptance of this behavior.

  4. Walker says:

    Larry, this makes two things we agree on. Who’d have thought…?

  5. Brian Mann says:

    Peter Hahn –

    On the contrary: There is verygood scientific evidence to suggest that RC clergy are no more likely to be sexual predators than men in the overall population.

    Brian, NCPR

  6. Larry says:

    But unlike sexual predators in the general population, deviant RC clergy seem to have plenty of organized protection.

  7. Peter Hahn says:

    Brian – that is an interesting but not very convincing article. Their argument is that the percentage of sexual predators in the catholic priesthood is no higher than the rate of sexual predators in other organizations with access to children. (but without much supporting data) But they also point out that the most of the sex-crimes were committed in the 60’s and 70’s and now the rate is much lower following all the scandals etc. Therefore, the old rate must have been much higher than normal. It is probably true that the rate of sexual predation is just a lot higher in general than we are aware of. It may also be true (as they point out) that the percentage of priests who are gay is higher than the rate of gays in the normal population meaning that the rate of sexual predation of boys is higher by priests than by soccer coaches (for example) who would be more likely to be sexually predators of girls, which might not be as newsworthy.

  8. Brian Mann says:

    In the absence of extremely compelling evidence, I think it’s a mistake to label groups of people, particularly with a label as horrific as something like this.

    I’ve also covered far too many stories about sexual predators who are not priests to have a “gut” feeling that there is anything uniquely troubled about the clergy.

    –Brian, NCPR

  9. TomL says:

    Yet another reason to be appalled at the Catholic Church clergy’s lobbying campaign against the extension of statutes of limitations on criminal or civil trials related to child abuse, in the several states where such laws have been recently proposed (e.g. California, Maryland, Massachusetts and others). Why should anyone believe that ‘things have changes’ when the Church continues to lobby for measures that protect the rapists and other child abusers within its midst?

  10. Larry says:

    I’d like to see some compelling evidence that a sexual predator priest was immediately turned over to the authorities by his superiors for prosecution. How should we label these predators and the organization that sheltered them?

  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Somebody get the Catholic Church a moral compass. Maybe it could be an Eagle Scout project for someone.

  12. wj says:

    Two things:

    1) Sexual abuse by priests has very little to do with sexuality. As in almost all rape cases like this, it’s about power and control.

    2) It is offensive – in the extreme – to say that an adult who has sex with a child of the same gender is following homosexual tendencies. It’s rape.

    Please note that Finn helped conceal the actions of a male priest who raped young girls – potentially toddlers in some cases. No one – NO ONE – says the priest in question was following his heterosexual tendencies. Because that would be asinine. And offensive.

    Peter, I realize you were citing stats in the article cited by Brian. But you must never infer or suggest even correlation – much less causation – between mainstream, adult sexuality and raping a child.

    If you’re looking for more info on this, the DSM-IV is a good place to start.

  13. Peter Hahn says:

    Wj – if you read my comment I was NOT stating or implying that that the high levels of homosexuality in the catholic priesthood leads to high levels of sexual predation. What I said was that sexual predation of boys is more newsworthy than the same activity towards girls. (that was speculation). However, I would also guess that with the use of alter boys and not alter girls, that the opportunity for gay priests is greater than the opportunities for heterosexual priests. The problem is with male sexuality not orientation, but it still seems that the Catholic Church enabled this behavior.

  14. And people wonder why the Catholic Church’s moral credibility has evaporated in the eyes of so many former members.

  15. This is why I quit the Church I was raised in. If a man wants to have a loving, committed relationship with another man, he is evil and sinful and should be denounced. But if that man wants to rape a boy, high ranking officials in the Church will protect him so long as he’s wearing a white collar. Disgusting hypocrisy!

  16. Pete Klein says:

    Brian, I think you are correct about the RC clergy are no more likely to be sexual predators than men in the overall population.
    I went to Catholic schools and was an altar boy, and never had or even ever heard of any of these problems with priests.
    Where I do see a problem is with the Bishops. They like to pontificate over everyone’s sexual life but hide and make excuses for priests. They want to stick their noses into politics but seem unwilling to do much about their own quasi government.

  17. Peter Hahn says:

    The article that Brian highlights is arguing that the celibacy rule for Catholic priests cannot be blamed for the problem – because there isn’t a problem. That is because, as the article claims, the rates of child sexual predation by priests is no higher than for the population at large.

    Personally, based on anecdotal conversations with friends who went through Catholic seminary education to become priests, that the approach of the priesthood training to sexuality and especially adolescent sexuality probably is a major factor. But that’s speculation.

  18. Mervel says:

    Celibacy for the Priesthood is not causing priests to be predators or sexual deviants. Non-Celibate people abuse just as much as those trying to practice celibacy.

    What the celibacy requirement IS doing however is narrowing the vast number of capable Catholics who would become Priests if the requirement was not there. Thus the pool is small and I think you get a fair number of people who would wash out immediately if it were not for the very small number of candidates.

    Celibacy will always have a place in the Catholic and Christian spiritual path, however for the Parish Priests serving in the Parish, it is likely time to either let the requirement go, or better yet let the Deacons take on most of the roles, which is already happening anyway and is a healthy trend. The Eastern Orthodox do just fine with a combination of marriage and celibacy among their leaders.

  19. I doubt that clergy are significantly more likely to be sexual predators than the population as a whole. Though if so, I suspect the celibacy rule is a factor, denying priests the possibility of a legitimate (in the eyes of the Church) sexual outlet with an adult. Regardless, I don’t think the real scandal is that a small percentage of priests is child rapists. There are child sex abusers in every corner of society, from so-called white trash to seeming pillars of the establishment (think Chris Ortloff). The scandal is the well-organized and vigorous CYOA protection such priests are being offered by their employer hierarchy. That combined with the fact that they occupy a profession which, despite the scandals, still commands more deference and obedience that most institutions. This is all made worse because the despicably immoral CYOA behavior is done by an institution which fancies itself as the guardian of our morals.

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