Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., who was convicted in 2012 on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. Bishop Finn is pictured in a 2014 photo at the Vatican. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Getting it right

  • April 30, 2015

Early in his papacy Pope Francis committed to continuing the work of Pope Benedict XVI to impose a zero-tolerance policy for abuser priests and see-no-evil bishops. So it was more than symbolic in late April when a Kansas City bishop was forced into retirement following a criminal conviction of failing to report suspected child abuse.

The strong signal being sent from the Vatican is that the days of turning a blind eye are gone and bishops will be held accountable for their actions and inactions when it comes to crimes committed against children. We say hurray to that.

Officially, Bishop Robert Finn left office in compliance with a provision of Canon Law that states: “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.” In this case, the grave concern was Finn’s suitability to retain office after he was found guilty and received probation for failing to report that the personal computer of one of his priests was found to hold a huge cache of child pornography. The priest was eventually arrested and, following guilty pleas to five charges, is serving a 50-year sentence for producing child pornography.

Although Finn had his supporters, the abounding opinion is that he had to go. That view is hard to dispute. Finn represents a type of bishop whose fear of public scandal clouds their obligation to safeguard the well being of children. Countless times over the decades these bishops have remained silent and reassigned priests in response to terrible crimes committed against minors. That policy was never defensible but it is even more indefensible today given the thousands of cases of priest-inflicted child abuse that have been uncovered around the world over the past quarter century. The damage this code of silence has done to the Church is incalculable and it pales compared to the physical and psychological injuries suffered by the victims.

Pope Francis inherited Finn’s case when he became Pope two years ago. Finn’s opponents wanted Francis to act swiftly, instead the Pope moved prudently. He launched his own inquiry into Finn’s actions, which included an apostolic visitation by Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, before Vatican officials worked out the best way to remove Finn.

Finn is just 62, and it is rare for a bishop to be steered out of office before the official retirement age of 75. But the Church is right to demand all its bishops maintain impeccable standards of decency and accountability, particularly on matters related to children.

While he remained in office, Finn symbolized how the Church had gotten it so terribly wrong for so many years. His departure is another signal that, hopefully, the Church is finally getting it right.

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