In the continuing saga of the repulsive tale of Father Shawn Ratigan in Kansas City, Missouri comes a disturbing, if not surprising, approach to the recent indictment of the diocesan bishop, Robert Finn, on charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, a misdemeanor that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in prison.
Yesterday's New York Times story on the matter, however, notes that few pastors are speaking about the case from the pulpit. Says the pastor of the parish where Ratigan is alleged to have photographed children in a pornographic manner: "As your pastor, I wish I could make this all go away." I think they call that "denial."
Denial is, perhaps, understandable, but not, I think, the best way to approach this situation. The Times story includes a young couple that no longer attends church because their young daughter attends the school where Ratigan served as pastor; she could have been one of his unknowing vicitms. How many others are lost to the Catholic Church because of this scandal?
I recently spoke with a long-time friend who, it turns out, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest as a teenager. The message from that friend: The church (bishops, priests, and people) still don't get "it"–don't get the profound suffering of victims, the permanent damage this violation of trust entails, the lifelong effects on self-confidence and ability to trust others. We–all of us–focus first on forgiveness rather than justice rightly understood, which includes truthfulness, determination of guilt or innocence, and appropriate penalties.
I have argued (most recently in my August column) that Finn and other bishops who have failed in the matter of sexual abuse should resign; in this case Finn should at least step aside as bishop until the legal matter of his indictment is resolved–and resign permanently if found guilty. Priests accused of misconduct are required to do no less.