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ROME, May 7, 2015 ( – For some time, observers have expected the final outcome for Bishop Robert Finn, former head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, who was ordered by Vatican officials to tender his resignation last month. The predictable sides have lined up: either condemning and saying, ‘It’s about time,’ or defending him. With all the noise made, it may be difficult for most readers to tease out the truth, but an examination of the facts of the Finn case and that of another high-profile prelate may be enlightening.

If Finn, why not the many, and much worse, others?

With Finn’s 2012 conviction of the misdemeanor offence of “failure to report” a priest caught with images of children on his computer, some of which were judged to be pornographic, it has been expected by supporters and enemies alike that the bishop would be asked by Rome to step down. But while the mainstream secular and liberal Catholic press are triumphing, some very pertinent questions are being left unanswered, primary among which is, if Finn, why not others? All the others…all the many, many others?

Bishop Finn was removed from his diocese and is now being almost universally reviled as a “criminal” and a shielder of sex-abuse. But he never covered up molestation of young people by a priest, and has never been charged with that.

At the same time, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, after being shown to have personally covered for a man who for years had sexually assaulted his own nephew, has been allowed to retire honorably at the normal retirement age, from his position as the enormously powerful head of the archdiocese of Brussels, Belgium. Last year, Danneels was personally invited by Pope Francis to consult at the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

To put it bluntly, Finn never shielded a priest-abuser; Danneels did, for years. But Finn’s out and Danneels is invited to important conferences by the pope.

Phil Lawler, an editor of the popular website, has strongly supported Finn’s resignation, but he raises the burning question, “Why Finn and no one else?” The “truly remarkable thing” about the case, he says, is not that Finn was forced out, but that, in over a decade of egregious scandals around the world, he has been the only one.

“Dozens of other bishops were as negligent, or worse. But they remained in office for years as the Church hierarchy came, ever so slowly, to the conclusion that even prelates must be held accountable,” Lawler said.

Was Finn’s greatest crime crossing the progressivist establishment?

A few are calling foul and saying that Finn has been singled out for punishment, not for having failed to report in a timely manner that one of his priests was taking photos of partly nude children, but because he dared to oppose a deeply entrenched progressivist establishment of the U.S. Catholic machine, and attempted to restore a more traditional Catholic ethos in morals, liturgy and, perhaps most important, in his pursuit of more orthodox vocations to the priesthood.

They are saying, in other words, that Finn’s downfall was in reality a manifestation of the never-ending turf war in U.S. Church politics between the so-called “progressive” heterodox left and the forces attempting to restore orthodoxy.

The legal charge against Bishop Finn was that he and his officials delayed reporting the activities of Fr. Shawn Ratigan to authorities in a timely manner, that he and his subordinates did not follow the diocese’s protocols promptly enough. But the case is far from cut and dried. Indeed, at the time of the indictment, attorney Michael Quinlan wrote for EWTN that a “careful review” of the facts of the case show that the charge against Finn should never have been laid.

“The prosecutor’s overzealous misuse of that law in these circumstances violates constitutional due process protections and denies rights to fundamental fairness,” Quinlan wrote. 

“Media and victims advocate groups have likened the diocese’s delay in notifying authorities to the inexcusable conduct of bishops in the U.S. and Europe, who for years and sometimes decades covered up known sexual abuse of minors by priests under their control and even assigned and reassigned these men to stations where they could continue their predation,” Quinlan continued.

“The facts, however, as found by an independent investigation, do not support this comparison. Nor do they support the criminal charge against Bishop Finn.”

Nevertheless, in December 2012, a court found Finn guilty of one misdemeanor charge and not guilty of a second charge of failing to report Ratigan’s activities. He was sentenced to two years of probation. Bishop Finn’s fatal “error,” according to an independent legal investigator, was trusting his Vicar General, Msgr. Robert Murphy, to follow diocesan protocols, and Fr. Ratigan himself when the latter promised to abide by the restrictions.

What really happened?

The day after Ratigan’s computer was turned over to the diocese, the priest attempted suicide and was hospitalized. It was in response to the priest’s attempted suicide that Finn ordered a psychiatric evaluation, not, as it is being portrayed in the media, as an attempt to minimize or excuse Ratigan’s behavior. That evaluation found that Ratigan was depressed but was not a pedophile. Nonetheless, Finn ordered that Ratigan must have no further contact with children, must not use a computer without supervision and must not take any photos of children. Finn removed the priest from his regular ministry and sent him to live as a chaplain at a convent of nuns.

According to court documents, “within months of entering into the agreement,” Ratigan had violated these restrictions, buying and using a computer, using social media and attending a children’s party. At that point, in May 2011, the diocese reported the violation to police, five months after the laptop was turned over to Msgr. Murphy. Ratigan was arrested on May 18.

A search of his computer revealed hundreds of images of children, only a small number of which were deemed pornographic. These led to 13 separate counts of the charge of creating child pornography. The court documents show that Ratigan later pleaded guilty to four counts of production of child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. Ratigan, ordained by Finn’s predecessor, Bishop Raymond Boland, was laicized by Finn and was sentenced by the court to a total of 50 years imprisonment.

What did the diocese do, and how much did Finn know?

According to an independent report, when he received the priest’s laptop, Msgr. Murphy informed the police officer, Capt. Rick Smith, who served as a consultant and police liaison for the diocese on sexual abuse, as well as an attorney for the diocese. To these, Murphy only described “in neutral terms” a single image from the computer, asking if it could be considered pornographic. Both of the men independently said it was probably not pornographic. Murphy reported to Finn that the situation had been dealt with according to the diocesan protocols. Finn himself never looked at the photos.

The report’s author, Todd Graves, an attorney and former national co-chairman of the U.S. Justice Department’s Child Exploitation Working Group, said:

Msgr. Murphy conducted a limited and improperly conceived investigation which focused on whether a specific image on Fr. Ratigan’s laptop, which held hundreds of troubling images, met the definition of ‘child pornography.’ Before he had viewed the images, Msgr. Murphy solicited an opinion from an IRB member, [police] Capt. Rick Smith but merely described one photograph over the telephone in a neutral manner. Msgr. Murphy also shared the images with diocesan counsel and received an opinion that a single disturbing image did not constitute child pornography.

Rather than referring the matter to the IRB [as a whole] for a more searching review, Msgr. Murphy allowed two technical answers to his limited questions to satisfy the diocese’s duty of diligent inquiry. Relying on these responses, he failed to timely turn over the laptop to the police.

Although Bishop Finn was unaware of some important facts learned by Msgr. Murphy, or that police had never actually seen the pictures, the bishop erred in trusting Fr. Ratigan to abide by restrictions the bishop had placed on his interaction with children after the discovery of the laptop and Fr. Ratigan’s attempted suicide.

The progressive Catholic machine triumphant

At the National Catholic Reporter, the Kansas City-based flagship of the radical progressivists in the U.S. Church, Michael Sean Winters has all but admitted that Finn’s departure was the result of a campaign by a cohort of progressives. NCR clashed with Finn for years, and the bishop insisted the paper should cease identifying itself as Catholic.

Winters wrote of Finn’s departure: “The people of that diocese, whose numbers have shrunk by one quarter since Bishop Finn took the reins of the diocese in 2005, can now begin healing the wounds his leadership caused and, by the grace of God, rebuilding the once-vibrant local church.”

Winters reveals much when he writes about Finn’s “authoritarian manner” in running the diocese and his “fatal flaw” of “hubris.”

“When Finn took the reins in Kansas City,” Winters writes, “he began sacking longtime staff, shut down offices he did not like, and vowed to increase vocations,” meaning vocations to the priesthood – a promise the bishop made good on, with 7 being ordained this year alone.

Winters continues, “Kansas City had a long tradition of lay involvement in the workings of the diocese, dating back before the Second Vatican Council and its emphasis on the priesthood of the baptized. That tradition was ignored. Lines were drawn between the culture of the Church and the ambient culture.” The culture, in other words, that trumpets radical feminism, homosexuality, abortion, contraception and longs for a Catholic Church emasculated and guided by the secularist agenda.

Clearly, Finn’s “flaw of hubris” was mainly that he was interested in restoring traditional concepts, like the priesthood of the ordained and a moral order in accordance with the Natural Law, to Kansas City that until 2005 had long been firmly and comfortably in the hands of post-Vatican II, 60s’ radicals. Finn’s rejection of the “ambient culture,” particularly of the acceptance of abortion, contraception and homosexuality, was the real sticking point for the NCR crowd.

The animus between Finn and NCR, and their followers in the greying liberal U.S. Catholic establishment, goes back to his earliest days as bishop. In 2006, NCR’s Dennis Coday lamented the “wrenching” “transition from a church focused on social engagement and lay empowerment to one more concerned with Catholic identity and evangelization,” under Finn’s tenure.

“Finn has brought the diocese, for decades a model of the former category of church practice, to a screeching halt and sent it veering off in a new direction, leaving nationally heralded education programs and high-profile lay leaders and women religious with long experience abandoned and dismayed,” Coday wrote.

The radicals don’t represent the faithful

While NCR and their cadre continued to play the aggrieved victims, it was clear they did not speak for all Catholics of Kansas City. In a 2013 column in his diocesan newspaper, the bishop called NCR out for its decades of opposing Catholic teaching, especially on sexual morality.

Finn said that from his first days, he had been “deluged” with complaints from the faithful about the Kansas-based NCR’s “insistent undermining” of Catholic teaching on female ordination, homosexuality, contraception and abortion and “lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting Magisterial teaching.”

Belgium’s Godfried Danneels – a liberal paragon and abuse enabler

Meanwhile, the Finn case can be compared with that of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, formerly of Brussels, who is among the many bishops in the Catholic Church who have been either formally investigated or credibly accused of covering up years and decades of sexual abuse, including serial rape, by priests and even fellow bishops.

For the decades following the Second Vatican Council, Danneels was the leader of the ascending liberal group of European bishops. As the darling of the liberal secular press of Europe, and as archbishop of Mechlin-Brussels, the home of the European Union and the center of much of Europe’s political life, Danneels wielded enormous power in European politics.

Indeed, former high-ranking Belgian politicians have just alleged that his political power and his dissent from Catholic moral teaching extended to petitioning Belgium’s King Baudouin to allow that country’s liberalizing abortion law to be passed in 1990.

Immediately following his retirement in 2010, Danneels, who has also publicly supported same-sex civil unions, was revealed to have actively worked to hide the activities of the now-notorious homosexual abuser, his friend and protégé Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges. Danneels was caught in a recording telling Vangheluwe’s victim, his nephew, “The bishop will resign next year, so actually it would be better for you to wait.”

The cardinal is heard in the recording warning the victim against trying to blackmail the church and urged him not to drag Vangheluwe’s name “through the mud.” Danneels added that the victim should admit his own guilt and ask forgiveness.

After Brussels police had raided the offices of the archdiocese and seized documents and computers as part of an investigation into what was suspected to be decades of cover-ups, Danneels was questioned in court for ten hours about his knowledge and involvement. Despite extensive evidence, no charges were laid against the cardinal.

The head of the Brussels’ Church’s own independent commission on cases of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal collusion, Peter Adriaenssens, told media that the cardinal’s name has appeared in 50 of the complaints made by victims before the commission. Adriaenssens said that Danneels was implicated not as an abuser himself, but as someone who knew of the abuse but did nothing to stop it. The police raid occurred just before the closing of the commission’s investigation, halting its progress. Questions remain about the outcome of the commission’s unpublished final findings.

John Allen asks the million-Euro question: Is Finn’s ousting part of a bigger movement?

The suspicion that Finn is the victim of an “ideological purge” was put forward recently not by conservatives but by John Allen, the former star of NCR, now associate editor of Crux, the Catholic news magazine of the Boston Globe. Shortly after the close of the 2014 Synod, Allen wrote of the possibility that Finn was one member of an “enemies list” held by Pope Francis, of those prominent prelates who would oppose a swing to the left in the Church.

These, Allen suggested, might include Finn; Paraguayan bishop Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, like Finn a member of Opus Dei; and Mario Oliveri of Albenga in northern Italy who, also like Finn, has been a strong supporter of the traditional, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass.

“Despite the different details, many observers can’t help noticing that all three prelates have one obvious thing in common: Each is among the most conservative members of their respective bishops’ conferences,” Allen wrote.

John Allen quoted veteran Italian Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti, who has spoken of a wider “witch hunt” directed at conservatives, calling it “an internal war … being waged in the name of the pope.”

“The suspicion is that what’s really going on isn’t so much a clean-up operation as an ideological purge,” Allen added. To date, he said, “there hasn’t been a high-profile case under Francis of a bishop being called on the carpet for any of the usual doctrinal offenses – tolerating violations of the liturgical rules,” but “conservatives,” that is those promoting greater orthodoxy in the Church, like Cardinals Raymond Burke and Mauro Piacenza, the former head of the Congregation for Clergy.

“Many on the Catholic right can’t help but suspect that the recent preponderance of conservatives who’ve found themselves under the gun isn’t an accident,” Allen continued. “Some perceive a through-the-looking-glass situation, in which upholding Catholic tradition is now perceived as a greater offense than rejecting it.”

Pope Francis needs to issue a clear statement of his intentions to clarify the speculation, Allen said.

“Otherwise, the risk is that a good chunk of the Church may conclude that if the pope sees them as the enemy, there’s no good reason they shouldn’t see him the same way.”

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Hilary is a Rome-based reporter for LifeSiteNews. 


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