Those who work closely with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the 65-year-old leader of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, speak of a kind, soft-spoken, baseball-loving man of high character with a notable back story.
On Tuesday, the Vatican added another line to Naumann’s resume: temporary leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, following the resignation Tuesday of embattled Bishop Robert W. Finn.
“I have had the opportunity to work with some incredible people in my career,” said Ken Williams, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “He (Naumann) is at the top of the list.”
But when it comes to dealing with purported cases of child sexual abuse within the church, others wonder whether Naumann will be more responsive to the issue than his predecessor.
“We’re very concerned,” said Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles, who has filed dozens of lawsuits alleging church-related child sexual abuse against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
She filed one recently against the archdiocese in Kansas, naming Naumann as one of four defendants in his current role as archbishop, although the allegation of abuse, a recovered memory in 2011, goes back to 1972 and a priest who has since died.
Randles in the case claims that the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas knew about the priest’s alleged abuses for years and had records of two similar complaints about the same priest, yet did all but nothing about it.
“In this case, not only did they know since 1972, they were sued three times,” Randles said of the church. “Yet in 2015, Archbishop Naumann sent our client a letter saying he sees no evidence lending credibility to the allegations.”
Jack Smith, director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, now working with the archbishop, did not comment on the litigation, but said in an email, “I can’t imagine why an abuse case from 1972 in Kansas while Archbishop Naumann was a seminarian in St. Louis has any relevance to his own excellent record of child protection.”
Responding to a set of emailed questions from The Star on Wednesday, the archbishop spoke to sexual child abuse in general.
“Our people have a right to expect their children will be safe and protected by the Church,” Naumann wrote. “Obviously, in the past the Church in the United States was not properly vigilant in this area. One child being harmed by a representative of the Church is one too many.…(T)he Church has a responsibility first to respond quickly to protect children, but secondly to protect the reputation of a priest or other church employee until the matter can be properly investigated.”
Those who know him said the plight of children runs deep for the archbishop. Naumann, who was born in St. Louis in 1949, was raised with his older brother by a single mother who knew tragedy at a young age.
His father, Fred Naumann, played baseball from 1938 to 1940 as a minor-league catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals system, including catching for then-pitcher and future Hall of Fame slugger Stan Musial.
“I try to remember (my father) frequently in prayer,” Naumann told The Leaven, his archdiocesan newspaper, in April 2014. “Baseball is still a way I feel connected to him.”
But Naumann never got to meet his father, who left baseball after 1940 and soon entered World War II to serve in the Pacific. In 1948, a week before Christmas, and just over five months before Joseph Naumann was born, his father was working as the manager of a St. Louis store when a disgruntled employee came in, wielding a knife, and stabbed Fred Naumann to death.
Naumann’s mother, Louise, raised him and his brother, Fred, two years older, on her own with the help of the boys’ grandparents.
“He has great empathy for single moms,” Kathy O’Hara, superintendent of schools in the archdiocese, said Wednesday. “His mom was a Catholic school teacher and a Catholic school principal. His mom actually taught him kindergarten.”
O’Hara has worked with Naumann (pronounced Naw-men) for 11 of her 12 years in the position, ever since he was named coadjutor archbishop of Kansas City in Kansas in 2004 alongside Archbishop James Keleher. Naumann took over as archbishop a year later when Keleher retired.
Naumann was not making himself available for media interviews this week, but rather is spending his time meeting with clergy and laity across the state line in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, which was led by Bishop Finn for 10 years.
Finn’s resignation Tuesday came in the wake of months of rumors, which heightened last week when Finn was called to the Vatican. Nearly three years ago, the bishop, now 62, became the most senior U.S. Roman Catholic prelate convicted of a criminal charge related to the Catholic Church’s child sexual abuse scandal.
In September 2012, a Jackson County circuit judge convicted Finn of failing to report suspected child abuse after church employees and church leaders found child pornography on the computer of a priest, Shawn Ratigan. Ratigan, now serving a 50-year prison sentence, was ejected from the priesthood.
Finn’s conviction was a misdemeanor. But the run-up to the trial drew national press and attention and divided the Kansas City Catholic community into separate and vocal factions, some defending Finn while others called for his ouster.
Naumann worked as colleague of Finn’s and said of him in Wednesday’s email, “I have always respected his prayerfulness, his work ethic, his intelligence, and his sense of humor.”
In October 2011, Naumann gave an extensive question-and-answer interview to the National Catholic Register in which he discussed the then-recent indictment of Finn and, at that time, questioned whether Finn was getting a fair hearing. He called into question the objectivity of the media, with special emphasis on The Star and the office of the Jackson County prosecutor.
“This crusade against Bishop Finn is, in part, ideological,” the archbishop stated.
In the same interview, Naumann questioned the motivations of the group SNAP — Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — in calling for Finn’s removal.
“My take is that they have a hatred toward the Church,” he was quoted as saying. “Their mission is no longer to assist victims, but is to strike at the Church and wound the Church. …In my experience, they have never acknowledged a false accusation. As far as they are concerned, if you are accused, you are guilty. They don’t take anyone off the list. They don’t serve themselves well by insisting that every accusation is true.”
But he also acknowledged that mistakes were made.
“We have to follow our policies and procedures faithfully and conscientiously,” he said in the interview. “Dioceses have good policies in place. If we follow them, we can avoid these problems. It is very damaging when we don’t do that.”
Admirers talk of Naumann as an intense listener who holds strong to Catholic ideals.
“He makes you feel like when you’re talking, that you’re the only person in the room,” Williams of Catholic Charities said.
Naumann is a member of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-Life Activities, an issue which he came to early as an associate pastor.
“I was in my second assignment as an associate pastor,” he said in a past interview with a diocese publication, crediting Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, for the impetus.
“(I)t was the summer of 1984 and I’d just watched the Democratic convention. I was just so disappointed when this Catholic woman who got the nomination for the second-highest office in the land immediately began to try to redefine the Church’s position on life. …
“When my predecessor called at that time, I said if there was anything I could do to help with the church’s efforts to promote the sanctity and dignity of human life, I’d do it…”
O’Hara, the superintendent, spoke of his wisdom.
“He really does live the faith,” she said, “because he believes. He has hope that’s rooted in faith.”
“I have personal experience,” she said, “with a couple of situations where Archbishop Naumann has always been on the side of caution to protect children. …I can say with 100 percent confidence that he has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that not just children, but anyone in a harmful situation, will be protected.”
Q&A with Archbishop Naumann
The archbishop was not available for an interview Wednesday but responded to questions sent by email.
What is your understanding of how long you may be staying in this dual position leading the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and now the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph? Given a general time line?
I am not in a position to give any sort of precise time line. I assume this will be a high priority for those charged with the responsibility of advising the Holy Father on the appointment of bishops.
I understand that you and Bishop Finn, both from St. Louis, were friends. When and how did you you first come to know each other? Do you think the man you have known for many years has been unfairly demonized in the press?
I did not know Bishop Finn well during the seminary, because we were four years apart in the formation program. Bishop Finn did his theological studies at the North American College in Rome, while all my seminary formation was in St. Louis. As priests, I had the opportunity to get to know Bishop Finn in his work as Director for Continuing Formation of Priests and editor of the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. I have always respected his prayerfulness, his work ethic, his intelligence, and his sense of humor.
Like many Catholics nationwide, Catholic laity in the Kansas City area have been riven over the issue of child sexual abuse within the church and whether church leaders have done enough over the years to protect children from abusive priests. Some argue that sexual abuse within the church, although terrible, is no greater a problem within the church than it is in within a number of other organizations that deal with children. Do you think the image of the church in his regard has been portrayed fairly?
I believe that the Church should hold itself to a higher standard than the general society. Our people have a right to expect their children will be safe and protected by the Church. Obviously, in the past the Church in the United States was not properly vigilant in this area. One child being harmed by a representative of the Church is one too many. When there is an allegation of misconduct by a priest or other Church representative involving a child, the Church has a responsibility first to respond quickly to protect children, but secondly to protect the reputation of a priest or other church employee until the matter can be properly investigated. Currently, from all that I know, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has a very good child protection policy and system. The work of the Ombudsman and Office of Child and Youth Protection has even been commended by Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
In the letter you released Tuesday, you said that “this will not be a time for innovation or change, but a time to sustain the ordinary and essential activities of the church and where possible to advance the initiatives that already are underway.” Those words did not bring comfort to some critics who said they think that it is precisely a “no change” attitude, particularly in regard to protecting priests over children, that got the Catholic Church, the diocese and Bishop Finn in trouble. They believe that change in that regard is needed. Are they misinterpreting your message?
My statement indicating that this was not a time for change was referring to the temporary nature of my appointment. As an administrator, this is not a time to launch new pastoral initiatives that the new bishop will have to implement.
In a 2011 interview in the National Catholic Register regarding the then-indictment of Bishop Finn, you suggest that political forces played a role in his unprecedented indictment and that coverage was far from objective. Do you think Bishop Finn acted wrongly and was fairly indicted for “failure to report a suspicion of abuse” and fairly found guilty?
Bishop Finn has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for the mistakes that he made. The court has issued its judgment. I do not believe it serves any purpose at this point to comment further on how he was treated by the press or the court.
Do you think Bishop Finn’s resignation will help heal divisions within the diocese? What, if anything, do you plan to do to help bring people back together?
I hope that during the coming weeks and months healing will occur within the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. One initiative that the universal Church will be focused upon in the coming year is the Jubilee of Mercy (a year of joy, remission and universal pardon to begin in early December). I believe that the implementation of the Jubilee of Mercy in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph could be the occasion for great healing.