MARY SANCHEZ

Call for Vatican to discipline Bishop Finn sprung from Kansas Citian’s effort

Updated: 2014-02-19T00:44:40Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

If you doubt the power of one person, listen to what happens when one soul is motivated by faith.

The Vatican, maybe even Pope Francis himself, may at long last hear the concerns of many Catholics within the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. Parishioners here have seen their diocese battered financially, their churches unfairly tarnished by the sins of pedophile priests. For too long, that hurt was intensified rather than lightened by the underwhelming response of church leadership.

In that way, lifelong Kansas City area Catholic Jeff Weis was in sync with many people who watched when Bishop Robert Finn was found guilty of failure to report suspected child abuse in 2012. The charge against Finn involved the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who was found was guilty of child pornography charges and sentenced to 50 years.

Weis thought Finn would resign. After all, this was the same bishop who promised change after he ushered through a $10 million settlement on behalf of the diocese to 47 victims and their families. But nothing happened.

So Weis started a petition online. It’s that effort that has ballooned in recent weeks, with the plea for the Vatican hierarchy to discipline Finn.

“It’s about the kids, whether they are in parochial school, CCD programs or are altar boys,” Weis said. “It’s about future generations of our church.”

A retired priest who is also a canon lawyer helped. But Father James Connell of Milwaukee merely joined the effort Weis had long been nurturing alone by email, Twitter and Facebook.

By October 2012, Weis had gathered 106,000 signatures on Change.org, at least 1,540 of which are now from the Kansas City area. He admits that is a fraction of the 133,000 Catholics in the diocese. But eventually, the signatures grew to 113,000, including an Italian version, and soon a Spanish one will seek the support of people in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

Weis printed the signatures out, twice. Packed the 3,500 or so pages into two large file boxes and carted them to church officials in Baltimore and St. Louis.

He met with leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and with Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis.

Weis asked for a meeting with Finn, but was told no.

Weis is not vindictive. He wouldn’t link with any other effort that might seem too combative. Even Connell was met with skepticism.

Weis went to parochial school as a child, graduating from Rockhurst High School. The eldest of his two sons is following that educational path. Along with his wife, the family attends St. Peter’s parish.

“My motto since day one has always been forgiveness and change can work together.”

The change he seeks are shifts in the power structure of the church, the attitudes that had Finn apologizing for mistakes and then, as the courts found, still not appropriately reaching out to police when the diocese was aware of concerns about Ratigan.

He’s not expecting a miracle.

“The Catholic Church moves very slowly,” he said, acknowledging that the Vatican will not want to court the impression that upset parishioners can bend Rome.

More than two dozen civil lawsuits against the diocese are pending. People are concerned about fund raising for a new high school. Finn certainly has many strong supporters as well.

But many local Catholics are like Weis — appropriately concerned, but not motivated by a hatred or grudge against Finn personally.

They merely want their faith in diocesan leadership restored.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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