Public Editor

September 4, 2013

Bishop Finn trombone story divides readers

“I just don’t know why The Star would run a story about this man,” one caller said of the story about Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph learning to play the trombone. But not all agree.

This week, The Star published a story about Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. But this one had a very different focus from most news mentioning him in recent years.

Finn was the first American bishop to be convicted of failing to report a priest engaging in illegal sexual activity involving minors.

The story in the FYI section this week was about a new endeavor he’s undertaking: learning to play the trombone.

“As a very strong Catholic, I am really, really offended that you would put something in the paper about this man,” said a caller this morning. “I think this article is just terrible. He should be shunned for not protecting children, and here (The Star goes) putting this big article out saying what a great man he is. I’m so angry about this.”

Other readers have offered similar sentiments. But I’ve also heard from Finn supporters, one of whom told me she “appreciate(d) showing another side of him. We’re told to forgive, so this might show other people he is human too.”

The story does mention the sex-abuse scandal prominently. And in fact, you could argue that it’s the framing device for the story itself, ending with a subtle parallel between the bishop’s getting past his musical slip-ups and his legal transgressions.

But I do understand the overall point: Many readers feel the subjects of feature stories should be honorable people in general. Finn’s critics (all of whom self-identified to me as Catholics in this case, by the way) don’t include him in that category.

That brings up the question of whether controversial figures should ever be profiled in a context outside of their wrongdoing (alleged or otherwise). I think that’s an overly strict rule in general. But yes, I think those who objected to this particular story have an opinion worth considering.

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