Bishop Conley told the newspaper that his invitation to and reception of Bishop Finn was an act of mercy:
“It is a grace to welcome Bishop Finn to our diocese, to continue his priestly ministry as chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ the King,” Conley said in a written statement. “Priests and the faithful of our diocese have told me how glad they are to have him here. Bishop Finn has been a longtime friend to the School Sisters — and in God’s mercy, he arrived just as their beloved chaplain passed away.
“Of course, Bishop Finn has faced legal issues related to administrative decisions, he’s addressed them appropriately, and they’ve been resolved. The faithful of our diocese can be confident that his ministry as a chaplain to the School Sisters of Christ will be a grace for all of us, and a witness to God’s enduring mercy.”
Emphasis mine. “Legal issues related to administrative decisions” is a rather cold-blooded way of characterizing the Shawn Ratigan affair, which led to Finn’s conviction and, after a Vatican investigation, forced resignation. Here is a summation from the Kansas City Star (9/6/2012):
Those facts included an acknowledgement from Finn that he is a mandated child abuse reporter under Missouri law. The stipulation also contained a long recitation of the now-familiar facts of the case with several new insights.
• A June 2010 conversation between Finn and Ratigan, in which the bishop told his priest that “we have to take this seriously,” after a Northland Catholic school principal complained to the chancery that the priest was behaving inappropriately around school children.
• A chancery computer manager’s determination in December 2010 that only four or five of the hundreds of lewd photos found on Ratigan’s laptop had been downloaded from the Internet. The rest appeared to have been taken with a personal camera.
• Ratigan’s denial, while hospitalized for a suicide attempt, that he had sexual contact with children or had any images of children involved in sexual acts on his computer.
• A statement from a Pennsylvania psychiatrist, who found that Ratigan was not a risk to children, which appeared to support the priest’s contention that he was the victim of mistreatment by a school official who complained about his conduct around children.
• A note that Ratigan’s “treatment” with the Pennsylvania therapist in early 2011 consisted entirely of telephone conferences.
• A letter from Ratigan to the bishop in February 2011 in which the priest admitted having a pornography problem. “I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography,” Ratigan wrote.
• Finn’s acknowledgement in a March 2011 email that Ratigan had issues around children. “I am quite concerned about him attending” a sixth-grade girl’s party, Finn wrote. “I think this is clearly an area of vulnerability for” Ratigan.
• Finn’s statement at a meeting with other priests after Ratigan’s arrest that he had “wanted to save … Ratigan’s priesthood” and had been told that Ratigan’s problem was only pornography.
The stipulation also explained Murphy’s decision to call authorities in May 2011. Murphy complained that he was not receiving direction from the diocese’s lawyers and had misgivings about the diagnosis of “loneliness” from the Pennsylvania psychiatrist. Murphy said he had become “horrified” of the prospect that the photographs were not merely downloads from the Internet but were images of children that Ratigan had abused.
“I thought this is just moving along with no direction, and I thought I have got to do something,” the documents quotes Murphy as saying.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said after Thursday’s trial that Murphy had taken an important, if belated, step to protect children, and acknowledged that her office had agreed not to prosecute him in exchange for his cooperation in this case.
“But for the acts of Monsignor Murphy, we’d never know,” Baker said. “And Father Shawn Ratigan would not be in a federal prison awaiting sentencing.”
Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty in August in federal court to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography.
In January 2011, Finn had removed Ratigan as pastor and sent him for evaluation and counseling. But by late winter, Ratigan was assigned as a chaplain to a sister’s convent and living with a group of Vincentian priests in a suburb east of Kansas City.
There was no known supervision of Ratigan and he remained in contact with families from his former parishes, attending family gatherings and meals. It was later learned that Ratigan used these occasions to take images of children using his cell phone, some of them questionable.
Ratigan was found guilty in federal court in September 2013 of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail. He was laicized in January 2014.
The costs of Finn’s legal defense totaled $1.39 million, the diocesan paper reported in 2012. At that time, the diocese had spent nearly $4 million for other clergy sexual abuse claims.
In March 2014, an arbiter ruled the diocese had violated five of 19 child safety measures it agreed to as part of a 2008 settlement that awarded $10 million to 47 plaintiffs. In August of that year, a Jackson County circuit judge upheld the arbiter’s decision that the diocese pay $1.1 million for breaching the terms.
“There can be no doubt that the diocese, through its leadership and higher-level personnel, failed in numerous respects to abide by the terms,” Jackson County Circuit Judge Bryan E. Round said in his decision then.
Let’s not be bloodless about this. Here, from the diocese’s own investigative report (which I quoted at greater length in this 2011 entry), is what investigators found on Father Ratigan’s laptop:
Julie found the following: hundreds of photos of girls mostly under the age of 10 with some clothing (swimsuits, underwear, etc), photos of one female between 2‐3 years of age showing full vaginal exposure and full buttocks
exposure, multiple saved Flickr links, multiple links to young female Facebook pages, a “favorite” to a spy pen that allows you to take photos (looks like a ballpoint pen) and a “favorite” for two way mirrors (no longer a valid website so we were not able to identify purpose of site).
In the hundreds of photos it became obvious the viewer is focusing on the female pelvic region. It is also obvious that some photos were taken from a camera positioned under a table in which girls were sitting in their swimsuits or under playground equipment in which girls were climbing above. There is
also a photo with a little girl sleeping and someone has changed the location
of her hand and clothing while she sleeps to take the photos. It appears that
4‐5 photos were downloaded while the others seem to have been taken from
a personal camera…
The photos of the 2‐3 year old female “‐‐‐‐‐‐” were in a separate folder titled
with her name. These photos are the only photos that were found in which
you see full vaginal shots and a buttocks shot.
Understand that Bishop Finn and his team knew this, but still thought it worth leaving Father Ratigan in ministry, though in another assignment. The bishop made this call after having Ratigan evaluated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Richard Fitzgibbons, who, like Bishop Finn, is a member of Opus Dei. Fitzgibbons concluded that Ratigan was not a pedophile, and that his enthusiasm for pictures of little girls’ crotches was because of “loneliness” and “depression.” On the basis of that evaluation, Finn sent Ratigan to live with the Vincentians, where he got in trouble again. More from this report on his sentencing:
Three of the counts for which he was sentenced Thursday involved him touching children while posing them for pictures, according to prosecutors.
In an incident involving a 2-year-old victim in the choir loft at St. Joseph Church in Easton, Mo., Ratigan touched the girl’s buttocks. He touched the inner thigh, buttocks and labia of another 5-year-old victim who was photographed, prosecutors said.
In a third incident involving a girl who was 8 or 9 at the time, he touched her inner thigh, buttocks and labia.
“Ratigan also touched her buttocks through her clothing for the obvious purpose of obtaining more sexually explicit photos,” prosecutors said in their memorandum.
In arguing for a lengthy prison sentence, prosecutors said that after the first photos were discovered, diocese officials ordered Ratigan to have no contact with or photograph children and not use a computer.
“Within months, he was violating every one of the above restrictions,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors said that even after Finn confronted Ratigan about the violations, Ratigan used his cell phone to take non-sexual photos of prepubescent girls, including pictures of the crotch area of minor who was visiting his residence on Easter Sunday.
Bishop Robert Finn’s judgment was disastrous. If you go back and look at this 2011 piece from me, you’ll see that Finn and his team relied on extremely legalistic readings of the law and procedures to justify keeping Ratigan in ministry. It is hard to conclude other than that they were eager to give the benefit of every doubt to this troubled priest, and little to no consideration to his potential and actual victims. That piece has a report on a Kansas City layman who declined to be ordained to the diaconate because he could not trust Bishop Finn in light of all this.
After leaving behind Kansas City in disgrace, Finn found refuge in Lincoln. Bishop Conley, in a Journal Star column defending the move, wrote:
I invited Bishop Finn to Lincoln because he desires to spend his retirement serving the Church. He does not have a position of authority, administration, or oversight. He has a purely religious role, in an appropriate adult setting, which he has undertaken in humility. He is not paid by the Diocese of Lincoln; his role of chaplain provides him only room and board. Bishop Finn has not ever been accused of sexual abuse of children. His ministry as chaplain does not represent an issue for anyone’s safety.
The anger of former abuse victims or their relatives is understandable. Their pain is real, and the Church has an on-going duty to help them heal. But those who have acknowledged and paid the penalty for past actions, who seek to serve in humility, and who pose no on-going danger to anyone, have a right not be harassed and disparaged once justice is served. To do otherwise is not justice; it is malice. And it is not worthy of our community.
Again, legalism! Finn served two years probation on his conviction. The concern of Lincoln laity would not be that Finn might grab their children; there’s no reason to believe that. I could well be punitive (that he wasn’t made to suffer sufficient consequences for his failures in Kansas City) and/or protective: that a bishop or a priest so demonstrably insensitive to child sex abuse shouldn’t have a diocesan role.
Bishop Finn’s primary role in Lincoln is to serve as chaplain to a group of nuns who teach in local Catholic schools. It does not strike me as malicious to wonder if a bishop of Finn’s manifestly poor judgment is a good choice to spiritually advise nuns who oversee children. Finn has expanded his ministry in Lincoln, having given a retreat for catechists, and, I am told, doing confirmations.
Is it really malicious to be bothered by the presence of Bishop Finn in a ministerial capacity in one’s diocese? Why is it harassment and disparagement to say so? It’s fair to ask whether or not the Finn case is about bishops sticking by bishops through thick and thin, or about defending the Catholic faith and the flack through thick and thin. I have no doubt that Bishop Conley believes the latter. But then, as we have seen over these last years, clericalism, to borrow a concept from Jonathan Haidt, binds bishops and priests into teams, but also blinds them to reality.
What is the role of theological orientation in all this? I wrote last week about how startling it was to see leader of the Napa Institute, a conservative Catholic organization, issue a strong call to holiness and episcopal accountability while at the same time hosting the failed Archbishop John Nienstedt, who left Minneapolis in disgrace over sex abuse-related corruption in his archdiocese. Nienstedt is a conservative, which apparently covers a multitude of sins and failures in some eyes.
Granted, the cornfields of Nebraska aren’t the same as the vineyards of Napa, but was Finn given a soft Midwestern landing from his Kansas City fall because Bishop Finn, like Bishop Conley, is a staunch theological conservative? Finn really had done a lot of good in Kansas City when he first arrived, making the diocese more orthodox — a fact that magnifies the tragedy of his Ratigan failure, but does not obviate it. Ratigan was himself a theological conservative, which makes one wonder if that had anything to do with the kid gloves with which Bishop Finn treated him.
Similarly, the fact that Bishop Conley is such a strong conservative, admirable in many ways, magnifies, but does not obviate, his recently exposed failures in Lincoln.
Catholic conservatives angry over what Conley’s travails do to the wider project of promoting Catholic orthodoxy ought to be honest with themselves. The damage is done not by victims and critics telling the truth, but by the efforts to conceal for the alleged good of the Church. I’ll end on this.
Remember Richard Fitzgibbons, the conservative Catholic psychiatrist who badly advised Bishop Finn that Father Ratigan wasn’t a pedophile? Though I had written about his involvement in the Ratigan case, I had forgotten about it until researching today.
In 2002, I was tipped off that Dr. Fitzgibbons was one of the Catholic laity who flew to Rome before Newark Archbishop Ted McCarrick was moved to Washington, a cardinatial see. I was told that he was one of the group of Americans who warned the Vatican not to move McCarrick, because he was a molester.
I phoned Dr. Fitzgibbons in Philly back then to ask him if he had been on this trip. His answer: “If that were true, I wouldn’t tell you for the same reason that Noah’s sons covered their father in his drunkenness.”
He didn’t confirm or deny his participation in the trip, but by referencing the story from Genesis 9, Fitzgibbons was saying that protecting the image of the Church justified being silent about Cardinal McCarrick. Note well that McCarrick is a progressive, and Fitzgibbons is a conservative — but protecting the Church’s image was more important to him.
All of this about McCarrick could have come out in 2002, and been dealt with, had Fitzgibbons, among others, cared more about truth and accountability than shielding the cardinal from the consequences of his moral drunkenness.
This cover-up mentality is a cancer.