Criticisms of Bishop Finn described as misleading, dishonest

Bishop Robert W Finn CNA US Catholic News 9 6 12 Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Calls for the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph that have gained media attention are exaggerated and do not depict the real situation in the diocese, according to local Catholics.

Jack Smith, interim director of communications for the diocese, told CNA that a Dec. 2 article by the New York Times was "inaccurate" in suggesting a widespread lack of support for the bishop.

The New York Times said that it had obtained 32 responses from a survey of priests conducted by a consulting firm hired by the diocese and that "half of them seriously doubted whether the bishop should continue as their leader, and several suggested that he resign."

Smith explained that for some time, the diocese had been planning a capital campaign to build a new high school. However, after the bishop's trial, they decided to have a consultant, Church Development, conduct a confidential survey to see if the campaign should be delayed.

Thirty-eight of the diocese's 80 pastors were surveyed, Smith said. The majority suggested that the campaign be delayed. However, this negativity about the campaign does not reflect negativity about the bishop, he stressed.

"The questionnaire was not a referendum on Bishop Finn," he said. "The questions were about the timing of the capital campaign."

Only seven pastors – a clear minority – indicated on the survey that the bishop should resign, Smith said.

In Sept. 2012, Bishop Finn was found guilty of failure to report suspected child abuse and sentenced to two years of probation for his handling of a case involving diocesan priest Father Shawn Ratigan.

In December 2010, lewd pictures were discovered on Fr. Ratigan's laptop, including numerous photographs of clothed young girl's crotches and one picture of "a nude young girl from the waist down."

An independent investigation later determined that the diocesan vicar general had conducted a "limited" investigation and had received opinions from both diocesan legal counsel and the Kansas City Police Department Captain that the picture did not technically constitute pornography.

Bishop Finn had Fr. Ratigan undergo a psychiatric evaluation and was told that the priest "was not a pedophile."  Fr. Ratigan was restricted from interacting with children, and the diocese reported him to the police in May, after he violated those regulations.

The independent investigation determined that "Bishop Finn was unaware of some important facts" but also found that the diocese failed to follow proper policy in a timely manner and that "the Bishop erred in trusting Fr. Ratigan to abide by restrictions the Bishop had placed on his interaction with children."

Bishop Finn has apologized for failing to launch a full police investigation more quickly.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, told CNA that there has been a "concerted effort" to "unseat" Bishop Finn by those who dissent from Church teaching and are unhappy with some of the changes that he has made. 

The bishop was not involved in an intentional cover-up, but was instead given inaccurate information, which delayed the diocese in its eventual decision to contact the police, Donohue said.

He also argued that the "faux protest" is the result of angry individuals with "a political agenda" trying to get people in the diocese to "mutiny against their bishop."

He said that he has visited the diocese and talked to the people, but has "seen no evidence that there is some massive rising-up of the people in anger."

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Diocesan priest Father Angelo Bartulica views Bishop Finn as "a sincere and humble man" who has been misunderstood.

"I feel that through this entire process, there has been a whole lot of misinformation disseminated through the media," he said.

While the bishop has been portrayed as "somebody who had full knowledge of everything" and tried to cover it up, Fr. Bartulica thinks the chain of events has been "misrepresented."

In Fr. Bartulica's perception, the current complaints are part of a much bigger battle by those who did not like Bishop Finn to begin with and are using this as "an avenue to try to get him ousted."

He also pointed to the significant good work that the bishop has done in the diocese, such as creating initiatives to catechize the laity.

Long-time priest Monsignor William Blacet also weighed-in on the case by saying that he backs the bishop "wholeheartedly."

Approaching 91 years of age, Msgr. Blacet has been a priest for 66 years. He has worked under seven different bishops and said that he considers himself "very fortunate" to have Bishop Finn, whom he considers an "outstanding" bishop and a "holy" man.

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He said that has gotten to know the bishop "fairly well" since his appointment, and sees him as a kind and compassionate man. Similarly to Fr. Bartulica, the monsignor noted that Bishop Finn has apologized for his mistaken judgment in handling the case.

Msgr. Blacet explained that some members of the diocese were upset when the bishop was first appointed and made it clear that he was committed to Rome and the "authentic" Catholic faith.

These individuals were upset and never accepted Bishop Finn because they disagreed with him, he said. Now, they are doing harm to the Church by driving a wedge between the hierarchy and the people, while the bishop is seeking unity.

Although Msgr. Blacet believes the attacks against Bishop Finn are unwarranted, he is not discouraged, but rather sees an analogy to the sufferings and accusations that Christ bore during his passion.

"The bishop is strong," he said. "God will protect him. The Resurrection will come."