Finn “accountable” in civil court. Now how about the canonical?

Today in The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein provides an excellent summary of the evidence that led to the conviction of Kansas City, Missouri Bishop Robert Finn, noting that he is the first bishop in the U.S. to be held “accountable” for his failure to report a credible allegation of abuse to authorities. That accountablility, limited to a short, suspended term of probation, will leave him with a clean record when it’s completed.

I’m not sure that’s “accountability” for a failure of this magnitude–and if you doubt Finn’s full knowledge of Father Shawn Ratigan’s behavior, just read Goodstein’s account of the submitted testimony that both prosectuion and defense agreed to. What is still lacking is Finn’s canonical accountability. In short, we must wonder why the man is still the bishop of Kansas City.

As canonist and former National Lay Review Board member Nicholas Cafardi points out, both in his interview with U.S. Catholic and in comments to Religion News Service’s David Gibson, there is ample evidence that Finn violated canon law, specifically canon 1389, which provides for removal of a bishop for dereliction of duty. (Recall, for example, that even after Finn had assigned Ratigan to a women’s monastery as chaplain, he still allowed Ratigan to preside at youth event liturgies connected to the monastery.) Since the norms on sex abuse adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002 have the force of canon law, and Finn clearly violated them, I see no reason why he shouldn’t be removed on those grounds, as I argued in my August 2010 column.

Finn intends to stay the course–a sign to me that he is still really missing the magnitude of his failure here–and the bishop in charge of the church’s response ot sex abuse, Joliet’s R. Daniel Conlon, says, according to RNS’ Gibson, that he didn’t have all the facts of the case to comment specifically. (Really? Just read the newspaper! Or the public documents admitted to court.) I think it’s safe to say, however, that there won’t be any public pressure from the U.S. hierarchy for Finn to resign.

Too bad, because Finn’s resignation, especially if he initiated it himself, would be the best thing for the church in the U.S. and for his diocese. Finally we would have a bishop who, instead of expressing “regret . . . for the hurt these events have caused,” would instead admit that he made a mistake that fatally undermines his ministry as a bishop. Perhaps after such a conversion, he could devote the rest of his life to convincing his brother bishops to do the same.

About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.