Bishop Finn airs frustration over KC-based National Catholic Reporter

The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is expressing public frustration with the editorial stances of the National Catholic Reporter, a Kansas City-based independent newspaper that has called for the bishop to resign over his handling of sex scandals in the church.

In a column posted Friday in the online edition of the official diocesan newspaper, Bishop Robert Finn said the National Catholic Reporter was “undermining” church teaching on contraception and the ordination of women while praising “dissident theologies.” Finn also raised questions about whether the newspaper should call itself “Catholic.”

“I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name ‘Catholic,’ ” Finn wrote.

“Bishop Finn clearly feels our voice is not a Catholic voice,” said National Catholic Reporter publisher and former editor Tom Fox. “We are a Catholic publication, but independent of the church structure. That’s one of the keys to our credibility.”

Fox said the National Catholic Reporter is a member of the Catholic Press Association, which is sanctioned by U.S. bishops. The newspaper has won awards for general excellence and investigative reporting.

Its investigative reporting has included coverage of allegations of sex abuse by members of the clergy, an issue the newspaper had been addressing since 1985, Fox said. The issue took on a high profile in the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese in recent years, leading to further coverage.

The diocese has been hit by a raft of lawsuits. And in September, a Jackson County circuit judge found Finn guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse involving a local priest and sentenced the bishop to two years’ probation. At that time, the National Catholic Reporter published an editorial calling on Finn to either resign or be removed from his position.

“He’s obviously been through some very difficult times,” Fox said. “He’s hurting. I know he thinks he’s doing his job.”

In his column in The Catholic Key, the diocese newspaper, Finn said he had been “deluged” in recent months by correspondence from Catholics who were concerned about the editorial stances of the National Catholic Reporter.

“My predecessor bishops have taken different approaches to the challenge,” Finn wrote. “Bishop Charles Helmsing in October of 1968 issued a condemnation of the National Catholic Reporter and asked the publishers to remove the name ‘Catholic’ from their title — to no avail. From my perspective, (the newspaper’s) positions against authentic Church teaching and leadership have not changed trajectory in the intervening decades.

“When early in my tenure I requested that the paper submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of Church law, they declined to participate indicating that they considered themselves an ‘independent newspaper which commented on ‘things Catholic.’ At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end.”

Fox said he was not publisher of the newspaper when Finn became bishop in 2005, but the publisher at that time said relations with the diocese were cordial.