Some Closing Thoughts on the Bishop Finn Affair

In our defenses of Bishop Finn’s positive legacy in his diocese and the seemingly heavy-handed (and quite likely ideologically motivated) pursuit of his conviction and resignation, we’ve gotten a lot of pushback in the comment box.

In various fora, including this one, I’ve had to respond to misconceptions about what it is that I actually believe about this situation. I’d like to do that one last time here so that I can hopefully clear up any incorrect ideas and bring some closure to this topic. It’s time to move on.

I do not have the luxury of a great deal of unoccupied time. And time is what I would need to read every shred of evidence on this case. I began my examination of this case with a few news articles and light legal summaries, and wound up spending some time (but not enough to go through it all) with the Graves Report and the entirety of the “Stipulation of Testimony” found here. I also found the legal opinion provided by 25-year Missouri Attorney Michael Quinlan informative in my considerations.

If you will forgive me, I’m going to cut/paste/mix/match thoughts I’ve posted already as these discussions have unfolded, because there’s no use finding new ways to repeat myself when I’ve already taken so much time to write out what I believe:
Bottom line: I am conflicted on the issue of Bishop Finn’s conviction and resignation. I sense that his culpability in this matter was exaggerated, and that the claims that what really drove this case were politics, ideology, and a prosecutor out to make a name for herself are at least probable. I also find credible the claim that the legal precedent for convicting on a failure to report is unusual, and that this diocese (Kansas City-St. Joseph), formerly a hotbed of extreme progressivism (and the home of the National Catholic Reporter) has been looking for a way to take Finn’s head since he got there.

It is clear that they found it. They got what they wanted. And they have reacted with diabolical glee.

I’ve read as much as I could, and tried to get clarity on the facts of the case. It appears that much of the condemnatory analysis of Finn’s actions is being levied with the benefit of hindsight. Now, with all the facts laid out clearly, we know about the additional offenses of Fr. Ratigan that we cannot be certain Bishop Finn was aware of at the time he was making decisions about what to do with him. Most of the case appears to have been handled by Msgr. Murphy, the Vicar General. It appears that Murphy made some poor choices. Bad advice was also a factor. The police officer attached to the IRB told Murphy the photo described to him over the phone would not classify as pornographic, despite depicting child nudity. (This seems not to have been his fault, since he was asked a hypothetical question rather than asked to examine the actual evidence). The diocesan attorney, who did have access to the photos, gave his legal opinion that the images found were not pornographic. The school principal where Ratigan worked said she thought Ratigan had “boundary issues,” but she did not insist that there was more than that. The psychologist who evaluated Ratigan following his attempted suicide did not find cause to believe him to be a pedophile or a threat to children. And so on.

There were others, like the IT technician who examined the laptop and the diocesan communications director, who believed the police should have been called early on. There is no way to know how much their opinions were taken into account, but neither of them could speak to the legality of the situation in the way that the others consulted could.

When a person in a position of authority is dealing with choices that involve the potential destruction of a man’s life, reputation, and vocation, it seems only normal that they would seek due process. When they are being advised by those staff members they have put in place to deal with situations like these that this does not rise to the level of something criminal, is it not understandable that they would be reticent to throw the accused priest to the wolves before seeing if he can be helped?

These are difficult questions. Even with what we have read (which is subject to interpretation) we weren’t there for the various meetings and conversations. We’re armchair quarterbacking. Obviously, the safety of children should be paramount whenever there is reasonable cause to assume that a priest might be a threat to them. Clearly, the voluntary restrictions were insufficient and there should have been much stronger action taken.

To be clear, Fr. Ratigan was clearly a deeply disturbed and sick individual. I have never, not EVER sought to defend his actions. I do not in any way wish to downplay the seriousness of Ratigan’s actions or their criminal nature.

I did, in some discussions, indicate that what I had read led me to believe the initial evidence found on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop was disturbing, but not actually pornographic. I read reports that said as much (“All but one of the photos were of normally clothed children, although the pictures focused on the children’s abdomen and crotch areas…”), and it is only by sifting through additional testimony and other, more in-depth documents that we see the mention of multiple photographs of a clearly more troubling nature. Timelines remain somewhat unclear to me on what was discovered when, and more to the point – what Bishop Finn knew about what was discovered and when he knew it. All appearances indicate that Bishop Finn was given to believe he was dealing with a situation far less serious than it actually was.

I see no reason to believe that Bishop Finn had any desire to shelter a pedophile. I am under the impression that he acted believing this was not an actively predatory situation, or even legally actionable. Thus, he made choices based on that — inaccurate — information. I mentioned earlier that I am conflicted. I believe that despite the overzealousness on the part of his detractors and the misinformation he was given, he should have realized he needed to do more, sooner. He should have proactively sought out answers rather than trusting that he was getting good information.

Still, the ideological component of this case MUST also be taken into account. Bishop Finn is, by all trustworthy accounts — including priests who have nothing to gain and everything to lose by defending him — a good and holy bishop who has done great things for what appeared to be an irrevocably damaged diocese. He brought forth excellent vocations where they had all but dried up, reformed parishes, restored liturgical sanity, encouraged the TLM, and stood resolutely for Catholic principles despite opposition. Willfully and knowingly sheltering a pedophile is entirely inconsistent with all other evidence of his character and concern for souls.

There are other cases — Daneels, Mahoney, and now Barros in Chile come to mind — which are so much more blatantly evil, which involve multiple acts of criminal negligence or complicity on the part of the bishops in question that it boggles the mind why they not only have not been charged or removed from positions of power and influence in the Church, but find themselves friendly with and in some cases even empowered by Pope Francis. If Francis forced Finn’s resignation, what are we to make of his lack of action on these others?

I have not been persuaded that I am wrong in my assessment that Finn was a good man who made a series of mistakes in the handling of this case, not a malicious protector of a pedophile. He has paid the price for the failure of his entire team, himself included. He has accepted his punishment. For his enemies, that’s not enough. They want to destroy the rest of his reputation and legacy.

This seems to me a serious injustice.

At the end of the day, I don’t know the whole truth, and it wouldn’t matter if I did. But when I have people telling me that it “warms the cockles” of their hearts to see him convicted and forced to resign, something isn’t right. We are Christians. We do not delight in evil. The whole thing is diabolical. One cannot examine the facts of the situation and walk away feeling good about any of it.

A commenter in another forum summed things up very succinctly:

“This seems to be a situation where more than one thing can be true.  It can be true that Bishop Finn had no intention of hiding anything and at the same time be at fault for not doing a better job.  It can be true that Bishop Finn did not handle this entirely properly and at the same time that there are people out to get him because he supports tradition, to the point that he is held to a different standard than other bishops.  It can be true that something that looks very clear from a position of hindsight and legal testimony, did not look so clear when it was happening. “

I can’t say it any better than that. Bishop Finn is gone. The faithful priests of Kansas City-St. Joseph have been blessed with the support of a supportive interim bishop, but if the recent American appointments are any indication, the permanent replacement may not be a blessing.

The diocese needs prayers, healing, and a strong and holy replacement for Finn. I hope they get all three.

 

(Comments are closed for this post.)

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