Bishop Finn and the Ideological Battle in Kansas City

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In my recent post, “What About the Rest of Bishop Finn’s Story”, I discussed the ideological and political dimensions of last week’s resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The motivation for the public relations campaign against Bishop Finn was clearly stated by former diocesan chancellor Jude Huntz when he told the National Catholic Reporter:

“This isn’t just about sex abuse. This is about a whole lot of other things that are ideological.”

And Mr. Huntz should know. Now the Director of the Office for Peace and Justice for Archbishop Cupich in Chicago, he has been an oft quoted source in the coverage of this story by the National Catholic Reporter (see here and here).

Indeed, the diocese has been front and center for many of the destructive ideological battles which have plagued the post-conciliar Church. As home to the National Catholic Reporter, those in positions of influence in the diocese have often spent decades promoting a “spirit of Vatican II” agenda. The arrival of an orthodox, tradition friendly, bishop ten years ago was a seismic event that shook heterodox constructs decades in the making.

Just this past weekend the Secretary for Seminarians in the Vocations Office of the diocese, Fr. Gregory Lockwood, discussed the environment that greeted Bishop Finn upon his arrival in 2005. In addition to his work in the Vocations Office, Father is the parochial administrator of Christ the King parish. In a truly remarkable letter written to his parishioners, Fr. Lockwood discussed the ecclesial landscape in Kansas City in the post-conciliar years. His words are unusually candid and obviously heartfelt:

For years before the bishop’s arrival, there had been in place a bleak outlook on the future shape of the church, a church without many priests, a church run “out of necessity” by laypeople, lay administrators, with priests as the sacramental suppliers, not leaders. It was said a lack of vocations was the reason for the new organizational principles adopted here, but, in fact, the lack of vocations was self-inflicted. Certain radicalized theologians and catechetical experts after the council had predicted a priest-less church, and some labored to bring this to fruition . In the ’90’s in our diocese we sometimes had less than 5 seminarians in any given year, and this reality was used to prop up the idea that the post-Vatican II church was meant to be a new church, with a new organizational chart.

Bishop Finn, as most modern, younger bishops after the council, decisively rejected this depressive scenario, put much less money into programs established for the bleak future, and, instead, put money and resources into the development of priestly vocations, and we have seen the result. We will have 10 new priests in all this fiscal year, and have many in the past several years. Though we will ordain so many, we have more men applying right now than the number we’re ordaining.

Father Lockwood goes on to explain what has lead to the current surge in priestly vocations in Kansas City over the past several years:

People complain that these young priest candidates are conservative, and that we in the Vocations Office are recruiting only conservative seminarians. This is untrue. Fr. Rocha and I in the last four years of working together have never had an ideological litmus test for incoming students. What is true is that service in the church, dating back into the early ’90’s, when I first began my career as a seminary professor, was attractive to young men who loved the church, knew she was 2000 years old, loved her traditions and teachings, and hadn’t grown up in the ’60’s time of turmoil. In other words, they were not, as a group, like their elders. And, as the men in my generation, they are allowed to be who they are. The vocations truly, were always there. The lack was in my generation’s insistence that the young men hold the same ideologies as we did. I saw many a young man turned away from the seminary in the early days for not having the “correct” leanings and attitudes. May God have mercy on us for our hubris and over-weaning pride.

That so much of the Bishop Finn story is about ideology and not criminal neglect was further demonstrated late last week. Upon his appointment by Rome as the apostolic administrator for Kansas City-St. Joseph, Archbishop Joseph Naumann held a lengthy meeting with over 100 priests of the diocese. One major issue of contention for some in attendance: pastoral assignments made by Bishop Finn just days before his resignation. As reported by the NCR:

During the meeting, several priests asked the archbishop to reconsider the appointments — specifically those to Visitation Church and St. Thomas More Parish, both in Kansas City and two of the diocese’s largest parishes — but Naumann told them that he prayed over the decisions and ultimately chose to let them stand.

Veterans of both sides of the ideological battles in Kansas City understand the vital role the parish priest plays in restoring orthodoxy and authenticity. These pastoral assignments will bear fruit over time. Moves such as these, however, also engender enemies from among the business as usual crowd. Fr. Lockwood discusses this as well in his letter:

“Those who are celebrating now began their work long ago, not because of the Ratigan case, but because Bishop Finn rejected their view of church reality. He was an “arch-conservative,” “pre-Vatican II,” “trying to take us back to the medieval church,” all these bits of nonsense that covered up the real truth: Post-conciliar ego and pride, the belief that we finally knew more than those thousands of saints who had gone before us, had led to the destruction of much of our church, the loss of clergy and religious, compromise with the world, especially in moral matters, the endangering of our families and children, and our own spiritual bankruptcy. The “Springtime of the Church of Vatican II” has never come, because we, in our smug superiority, had severed our connection with our past and Catholic Tradition. The tree cannot flower without its roots intact.”

Fr. Lockwood continues:

“One of the most disturbing things I have seen in my years as a priest is the glee and meanness of many of our brothers and sisters in the aftermath of Bishop Finn’s resignation. Champagne corks popped, celebrations begun, more mean and vicious things said by people whose Lord Jesus said to them, “Love one another.” There is no forbearance or forgiveness for this man who plead no contest to a politically motivated charge filed by an ambitious prosecutor with strong ties to the abortion industry, so that he might save his local church the pain and cost of a public trial. The statute used was not even applicable to what happened, but such is our legal and political society. He is a man who loves and cherishes children, and would never for one minute hazard them for any reason…But the outrage of many was managed by the designs of a few, and here we are.”

[…]

“If any good is to come of this, it must come from the grace of God in the humble hearts of His faithful children. Let us learn the lessons again from Christ who is meek and humble of heart. His yoke is easy and His burden light. Let us not take upon ourselves the heavy yoke of hate and spite; they, in the end, are too much for us to bear without us losing everything the Lord wishes to give us. May God’s peace give us clean and humble hearts.”

In the coming days and weeks as the resignation of Bishop Finn fades from the headlines, remember the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in your prayers. Those who see this as a victory are now emboldened. Archbishop Naumann, Fr. Gregory Lockwood and many other good and faithful priests will need our spiritual support.

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