As the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese tries to move past the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, a priest has roiled the waters with a letter alleging that the criminal charges against Finn were politically motivated.
The prosecutor who filed the case, Jean Peters Baker, this week responded with a strongly worded letter of her own.
Her letter, sent Monday to Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and to members of Christ the King parish in Kansas City, said the document distributed last week by their pastor, the Rev. Gregory Lockwood, contained “misinformation” and “misstatements.”
“I run this office as a prosecutor, not a politician, and I have sought convictions for those who have harmed our community,” Baker wrote, adding that while everyone has a moral duty to report abuse, others are required by law to do so.
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“Having the courage to stand up to those in power and hold dangerous criminals accountable for their behavior is a necessary component of the position of prosecutor,” she said. “…As your prosecutor, I am guided by this truth: no one is above the law, no matter our position or title. Children especially need this to be true, and abused children’s lives may depend upon it.”
Finn was convicted in September 2012 for failing to notify authorities about a priest who later pleaded guilty to production of child pornography. That priest, Shawn Ratigan, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison and has since been removed from the priesthood.
Finn stepped down as leader of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on April 21, nearly three years after he became the most senior U.S. Roman Catholic prelate convicted of criminal charges related to the church’s child sexual abuse scandal. Neither Finn nor the Vatican provided a specific reason for the resignation, but the Vatican said that Finn cited the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some “grave” reason that makes them unfit for office.
Baker sent her letter by email to the parish and to Naumann, said Michael Mansur, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office. Naumann is serving as the diocese’s temporary leader until the Vatican names a replacement for Finn.
Mansur said Wednesday that Baker had not yet received any response. When asked why Baker took the extraordinary measure of writing to the parish and the archbishop, Mansur said, “I think the letter speaks for itself.”
Lockwood did not return a call requesting comment. Naumann responded in a statement on Wednesday:
“I am disheartened that some have chosen to respond to Bishop Finn’s resignation, not by moving forward, but to continue public attacks upon him and the Church,” Naumann said. “On the other hand, Father Gregory Lockwood and others have also passionately defended Bishop Finn. While everyone has a right to free expression, in my opinion it serves no good purpose at this point to rehash a story that has had so many tragic consequences. There is nothing to be gained by picking at old wounds and speaking uncharitably about one another.
“My prayer is that when the new Bishop arrives he will find a Catholic community united and eager to work with him in making the love of Jesus more alive and tangible in our community.”
In his letter, which was inserted into parish bulletins, Lockwood said that Finn was a longtime friend and that his resignation “comes after a long, bitter, nasty campaign by many of our brothers and sisters, who, for whatever reason, were convinced that he needed to go.”
Lockwood blamed Finn’s critics — not the Ratigan scandal — for the resignation. His letter highlighted a rift between conservative and progressive factions within the diocese that intensified when Finn became bishop in 2005.
“For the instigators of this unfortunate event, the issue was never the Ratigan affair,” Lockwood wrote. “There were definitely mistakes made in handling the situation by people who, it turned out, were in over their heads, but there was never any malice, or impulse to cover up anything.
“If this had happened on another, more popular bishop’s watch, the aftermath we have seen would not have occurred, because the motivation for the mob-scene that ensued was Bishop Finn’s fidelity to a classical concept of the church, not the cover-up of any misconduct.”
Lockwood said that those who were celebrating Finn’s resignation did so not because of the Ratigan case but because they viewed the bishop as an “arch-conservative.”
“One of the most disturbing things I have seen in my years as a priest is the glee and meanness of many of our brothers and sisters in the aftermath of Bishop Finn’s resignation,” he said. “Champagne corks popped, celebrations begun, more mean and vicious things said by people whose Lord Jesus said to them, ‘Love one another.’”
There was no forgiveness, Lockwood said, “for this man who pled no contest to a politically motivated charge filed by an ambitious prosecutor with strong ties to the abortion industry, so that he might save his local church the pain and cost of a public trial.”
The statute under which Finn was charged, Lockwood said, “was not even applicable to what happened, but such is our legal and political society.”
He told parishioners that “we have become mean, low and self-involved.”
“No one has won anything here; we’ve all lost,” he said. “An honorable man has been unjustly disgraced, and we have sacrificed his dignity and our own in a rush to punish and destroy…”
In her response, Baker said she was raised in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic schools run by nuns who “guided students by their own demonstration of accountability and commitment to our education.”
“My church parish was blessed with many talented priests,” she said, “but the notion that no one is above the law was infused in me by these strong women.”
Baker said Lockwood was “factually inaccurate” in saying that Finn pleaded no contest to the charge of failing to report suspicions of abuse.
“On September 6, 2012, a Jackson County Judge heard the facts of the case and found him guilty of that charge,” she wrote. “You should also be aware that on September 12, 2013, Shawn Ratigan, a former priest, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for related photographic images of children.”
Lockwood’s letter has created a stir as it has circulated throughout the diocese. Some parishioners and victims’ advocates were incensed at its tone and content and said it was insensitive to priest sex abuse victims.
“Look what it’s doing to the victims,” said Sister Jeanne Christensen, who served as the diocese’s victims’ advocate from 2000 to 2004. “To say Bishop Finn’s resignation had nothing to do with Ratigan? This victimizes them all over again.”