The Finn indictment

At the beginning of June, I noted an emerging situation in Kansas City involving his excellency Bishop Robert Finn: The diocese had failed to respond with due urgency to a situation involving allegations about presbyterial misconduct. In her comments, Elizabeth Scalia  observed that “[t]he fallout from all of this will land on Finn, as it should,” and those chickens have now come home to roost: Finn has become the first prelate to face criminal charges for actions relating to the abuse scandal.

I must admit to struggling with this story. On the one hand, it’s obvious that Finn is being made into the scapegoat: “We couldn’t get Cardinal Law, but we can get this guy, even if what he did isn’t quite as bad.” And as several people have observed, there’s an odor of prosecutrixial career advancement hanging over the affair. On the other hand, however, Finn did mishandle the situation (I said so myself in June); is the failure of law enforcement in previous cases really a warrant for doing nothing now? Moreover, this isn’t a religious persecution story; this isn’t like the state imprisoning a bishop for refusing to violate the seal of confession, the law proposed in Ireland recently. And this isn’t a SNAP lawsuit seeking to extract money from the Church. This is different. Candidly, I feel, and I think many people feel, that the bishops failed to adequately deal with the situation in the past, and that the Vatican failed to adequately deal with the bishops, and consequently, while recognizing that this is a pandora’s box and that this is far from a firm conclusion, it’s hard to feel that justice isn’t being served in this instance when the state steps in.

To be sure, it sucks for +Finn; his seems the smaller sin, but the Church has to draw a line under the abuse crisis. At some point we must say that a bishop who failed to take reports of abuse seriously had enough information from the surrounding context that they are liable for their mistakes. And we are far beyond that point. As I said in my June post:

I find it hard to believe that as many as one bishop in the United States could still be asleep at the switch on anything even close to abuse by 2010 … so one might think that even an allegation of impropriety would rocket to the top of a bishop’s docket and stay there long enough to get a sense of what is actually happening. … We know that the diocese was notified in May 2010, and we know that it had taken no action by December 2010. Whatever happened between those dates was, clearly, insufficient. If the chancery had done nothing by December, the situation was not being actively handled with the level of concern, attention, and dispatch that one would have expected ten years of this scandal to have beaten into the bishops.

Quite frankly, if they aren’t afraid enough of God or the Vatican to take abuse seriously and act accordingly, perhaps personal criminal liability will do it.