In a recent column in The Star, Mary Sanchez wrote about a local Catholic named Jeff Weis who sent a letter to Pope Francis, hoping for power shifts in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese.
Weis’ efforts stemmed from the September 2012 conviction of Bishop Robert Finn for failing to report Catholic priest Shawn Ratigan’s suspected child abuse to the authorities. Weis collected 106,000 signatures, of which at least 1,540 were from local Catholics.
I don’t know whether I should applaud Weis as a true hero who went an extra mile in an effort to force Finn to step down like a corrupt leader. Weis, Sanchez wrote, further met with the leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis. I wonder how the bishops responded. “Thy will be done, Brethren?”
Ratigan unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage after his laptop containing troubling photos showed up at the diocese. When he was well enough, Finn sent him to the Franciscan Sisters’ convent in Independence to rest and repent, but Ratigan deliberately disobeyed and produced more photos.
How sickening! But long before Ratigan made the news, Finn approved a $10 million settlement with 47 plaintiffs who accused a dozen priests of sexual abuse decades before he became bishop.
I’m familiar with some of these cases. My daughter, then a student at O’Hara High School in southeast Kansas City, reported to me that her classmates who served as altar boys at a nearby church had been talking about Monsignor this or Father that, and what they had been doing to them and other altar boys in the sacristy after Mass ended. I didn’t buy her stories; I even called the boys liars. Believing such stories and questioning our spiritual leaders’ conduct seemed wrong to me.
Thirty years later, The Star articles revealed that what my daughter had told me likely was true. In dismay, I also discovered for the first time that at least one of those altar boys allegedly abused by the priests had committed suicide. But none of the priests was convicted or even admitted doing wrong.
Come to think of it, Ratigan had never harmed his victims the way those priests had done to the altar boys; he only took photos. Yet he’s now serving a 50-year prison term, and the diocese has paid altogether $3.75 million so far to the parents of his victims. More files are waiting at the courthouse, and no doubt more lawsuits will follow, all seeking monetary justice by human laws.
I believe that removing Bishop Finn from his diocesan duty will not solve the problems we’re having today. How do we know that his successor would better handle the lawsuits he’d certainly inherit, without mentioning the funds the diocese spent in legal fees and punitive damages?
It’s comforting to know that there are laws above the human laws. How does God judge Finn’s crime from heaven above? We don’t know. All we as believers can do for now is to hope that the victims (and their families) will find peace, and that we all walk together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.