Bishop Finn: Epic Fail and Fallout

By Elizabeth Scalia
Patheos - The Anchoress
June 7, 2011

By all accounts, Bishop Robert Finn is a very good man, but it seems he is a very good man who made a very big — huge; astounding — mistake:

Creepy is one thing. The question remained: was [Father Shawn] Ratigan’s behavior criminal? Based on the evidence available at the time, nobody could have said in good conscience that it was.

[. . .]

Julie Hess, St. Patrick’s principal, was able to fuse a mosaic of apparent non-events into a coherent picture of pathology. In May of 2010, she reproduced this picture in a 28-paragraph report (pdf), which she sent off to the diocese.

[Finn] sat on a summary given him by Msgr. Robert Murphy, his Vicar General, until several months later, when he learned that Ratigan possessed pornographic images of children. Even then, he declined to inform police for several more months until Ratigan violated his orders by consorting with minors. By pre-2002 standards, it was a B+ performance; by today’s, a D.

Bishop Finn — who says he was never given the actual report and had based his earlier decisions on a summary report that did not reflect the urgency of the issue — has made an apology — actually he has made several, now — for his foolish error, and the Catholic Key focuses on one key nugget that may prevent Finn from getting an outright “F” but it’s a near thing — the photographic images on Ratigan’s computer could not, at first, be construed as “porn”, as such:

Diocesan Vicar General Monsignor Robert Murphy then called a ranking Kansas City police officer and described this photo. In addition, the photos were provided to diocesan legal counsel. Both the police officer and legal counsel opined that the photos did not constitute child pornography as they did not contain sexual conduct or contact as defined by Missouri law. . .On the same day, Fr. Ratigan was called [by the Bishop's office and] told to appear the next day at the chancery. Fr. Ratigan did not arrive at the chancery. Instead, the next morning he was found unconscious in his garage with his motorcycle running.

When Fr. Ratigan regained consciousness several days after this suicide attempt, he was placed in a psychiatric unit to minimize the chances of a further suicide attempt. According to a May 20 statement by Bishop Finn, Ratigan was then sent for further psychiatric evaluation out of state.

Although physically recovered, Fr. Ratigan was not allowed to return to St. Patrick and he was removed from pastoral duties there. After various evaluations and a stay at his mother’s house, in mid-February Fr. Ratigan was allowed live and pay rent at a Vincentian priest residence. According to Bishop Finn, Fr. Ratigan was allowed to say Mass at the adjacent Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist community, but was otherwise restricted in his activities. He was not allowed a camera or computer and he was not allowed to attend events where children were present.

On May 12, after repeated reports that Fr. Ratigan had violated these restrictions, Msgr. Murphy again contacted the police officer he had originally contacted in December. When Msgr. Murphy relayed ongoing concerns about Fr. Ratigan’s violation of the restrictions placed upon him, the officer facilitated a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit.

According to a “Probable Cause Statement” prepared by Detective Maggie McGuire of the Cyber Crimes unit, Fr. Ratigan was taken into custody on May 18 and kept on an investigative hold.

The next day, detectives obtained a search warrant for items belonging to Fr. Ratigan which had been held at his family’s home following Ratigan’s suicide attempt. In those items, detectives found an optical disk with 14 different images of child pornography and a Rocketfish hard drive with four images of child pornography. That same day, Ratigan was charged with three counts of possession of child pornography in Clay County.

On May 20, at a forum with St. Patrick parishioners and in a public statement, Bishop Finn said, “I deeply regret that we didn’t ask the police earlier to conduct a full investigation.”

Bishop Finn certainly has his defenders; he may indeed be a very good man, but any bishop who is not exquisitely sensitive to this issue, at this point, is betraying an astounding lack of understanding. If he doesn’t get it by now, when will he?

The church needs to do a great deal of penance for its sins, but all of it will prove meaningless if our bishops can’t pull themselves together. No one wants to see an innocent priest falsely accused, but if there is a whiff — and in Ratigan’s case there was more than a whiff — of suspicion, you don’t rely on summaries; you say, “show me the whole report.”

At least that’s what I would do, and I’m not that smart.

The fallout from all of this will land on Finn, as it should. One one wonders if there is any way he can effectively shepherd the people of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, any longer. He has been apologizing continuously for that mistake — here is his latest, but even as he is speaking the words, a man preparing for ordination to the permanent diaconate in his diocese has decided his conscience won’t let him promise obedience to a Bishop whose judgment he cannot trust

No every good person is a good leader. I don’t see how Finn, if he loves his flock, does not take the hit in order to protect them.


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