Amid all of the coverage of Bishop Robert Finn’s resignation on Tuesday was a very telling quote from the former chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Jude Huntz, who was chancellor under Finn from 2011 until August 2014, when he left to become the Director of the Office for Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the dissident National Catholic Reporter:
“Everybody has got to kind of come together in some sort of a liturgical and communal way just to bring healing,” he said. “This isn’t just about sex abuse. This is about a whole lot of other things that are ideological.“
Anyone familiar with Bishop Finn’s tenure in Kansas City knows of the challenges he faced. As a priest of Opus Dei, and someone who was also publicly supportive of the Traditional Latin Mass, Bishop Finn was not afraid to take on a diocesan culture that had existed for years. The late Bishop Raymond Boland, Finn’s immediate predecessor in Kansas City, was honored with an award for his pastoral “leadership” by the National Catholic Reporter at its 40th anniversary dinner in 2004. Within his first week in the diocese following his installation in May 2005, Bishop Finn made it abundantly clear that things were going to be different going forward. According to the Reporter, Finn:
Dismissed the chancellor, a layman with 21 years of experience in the diocese; the vice chancellor, a religious woman stationed in the diocese for nearly 40 years; and the chief of pastoral planning for the diocese since 1990. He replaced them with a priest chancellor.
Canceled the diocese’s nationally renowned lay formation programs and a master’s degree program in pastoral ministry.
Halved the budget of the Center for Pastoral Life and Ministry, effectively forcing the almost immediate resignation of half the seven-member team. Within 10 months, all seven would be gone and the center shuttered.
For those who have worked for decades to clericalize the laity, it is anathema for any priest or bishop to diminish lay ministries and to restore a proper balance between the universal priesthood and the sacramental priesthood. The Reporter further notes that Bishop Finn:
Ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to immediately cease publishing columns by Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien and announced he would review all front-page stories, opinion pieces, columns and editorials before publication.
In other words Bishop Finn simply required his diocesan paper to present Catholicism authentically. No doubt these moves did little to endear Bishop Finn to the entrenched and self-important Catholics who often make up the diocesan establishment.
Let me pause for a moment for a disclaimer: In no way am I dismissing the seriousness of what transpired under Bishop Finn’s watch. The discovery and eventual arrest of a diocesan priest for possession of child pornography is both sickening and scandalous. An investigation that culminates with a guilty plea by the current bishop to a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse is equally shocking. In this instance, Bishop Finn demonstrated both poor judgment and criminal behavior.
Having said that, I also understand that those who most stridently oppose the return of orthodoxy and authentic Catholicism do not hesitate to destroy their perceived enemies. This is what we are currently seeing play out in San Francisco as self described “prominent Catholics” seek to oust Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone for simply promoting the true faith with clarity and conviction. Those who have tried to “sing a new Church into being” for fifty years are still fighting. Both Kansas City and San Francisco remind us that the “Spirit of Vatican II” is harder to kill than Michael Myers in “Halloween”.
There is one facet to the Bishop Finn story, however, that quantitatively illustrates the impact he had during his ten years in the diocese. I would argue that it ties in with a clearer understanding of the proper roles of both the clergy and the laity, and a greater appreciation for the priesthood, both pastorally and liturgically.
Currently the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has 32 young men in seminary for a population of only 133,000 Catholics; impressive numbers by any standards. In 2015 alone the diocese will ordain 9 men to the priesthood. Compare this to the Archdiocese of New York with its Catholic population of over 2.8 Million. For both 2012 and 2013 combined only 7 diocesan priests were ordained.
It is also important to note that the ordination of these 9 young men is not an anomaly for Kansas City. For the years 2010-2012 the diocese ordained a total of 14 men to the priesthood, placing them in the top 15 out of nearly 200 dioceses in the United States for ordinand to Catholic ratio. According to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which has been documenting these surveys for over twenty years, the diocese never appeared in the top 20 until Bishop Finn arrived. As I have written about before, authenticity, orthodoxy and tradition friendly bishops attract men to the priesthood. This is a major part of Bishop Finn’s legacy, and it needs to be told.
As this story continues to unfold in the coming days and weeks, it is important to recall these success stories from Bishop Finn’s time in Kansas City. Additionally, we must appreciate the difficulty that priests and bishops encounter as they address the dissent and heterodoxy long festering in many parishes and chanceries. One final excerpt from the National Catholic Reporter regarding the arrival of Bishop Finn ten years ago:
The new bishop “came with an agenda,” Fr. Richard Carney told NCR in 2006. Carney was then a priest of more than 50 years and a respected leader in the diocese…
“[Finn] didn’t ask us who we are and what we are about…”
Fr. Carney, might it be that the good bishop simply assumed you were all Catholic and that you were all about the salvation of souls?
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.