Bishop Robert Finn, of Kansas City, Mo., pleaded guilty in September 2012 to failing to report a suspected child-abusing priest, answering demands of victims to crack down on bishops who covered up for pedophiles. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
By FRANCIS X. ROCCA, WSJ
ROME—A U.S. bishop convicted of failing to report a priest who had produced child pornography has resigned, amid calls that Pope Francis make church leaders more accountable for their handling of child abuse.
The pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., under a provision of church law calling for bishops to resign because of “ill health or some other grave cause,” the Vatican announced Tuesday.
Members of a Vatican panel on child abuse have been pressing Pope Francis to dismiss bishops who fail to protect children or punish those under their authority who abuse them. One member of the panel said he would resign if the pope fails to fire a Chilean bishop (see below) who has been accused of protecting an abusive priest.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, declined to comment further on the Finn case.
Bishop Finn was convicted in Sept. 2012 on one misdemeanor charge because he had waited several months before reporting a priest who had taken pornographic pictures of girls. The priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, pleaded guilty to charges of child pornography and was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison.
Bishop Finn, 62 years old and 13 years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops of 75, is the only U.S. bishop to have been convicted for failing to report child sex abuse.
Jack Smith, director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said Bishop Finn would have no comment beyond his words in a diocesan statement that quoted Bishop Finn but didn’t address the cause of his resignation. Asked why the bishop had resigned, Mr. Smith said: “You have to assume that this probably stems from the four-year-long struggle over the circumstances of the Father Ratigan case.”
Since Bishop Finn’s conviction, pressure had grown on the Vatican to remove him from office.
Last September, the pope appointed Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Canada, to investigate the Finn case. The Vatican hasn't published any report.
In an interview broadcast last November, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, president of the pope’s commission on child protection, told CBS News’s “60 Minutes” program that the Vatican needed “urgently” to address the Finn case.
On Tuesday, a member of the child-protection commission said Bishop Finn’s departure was “one small step in the right direction,” but long overdue, and that the bishop shouldn’t have been allowed to resign.
“He should have been sacked a long time ago, as soon as he was convicted,” said Peter Saunders, an advocate for sex abuse victims who sits on the Vatican advisory body. “He should have been dismissed.”
|St Matthew Cathedral, Osorno, Chile|
Mr. Saunders said Pope Francis should now act promptly in the case of Bishop Juan Barros, whom the pope appointed to lead the diocese of Osorno, Chile, in January. Critics have demanded Barros’s ouster over accusations that he had covered up for another priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, who was later punished by the church for sexual abuse. Bishop Barros has denied charges that he witnessed abuse by Father Karadima.
In March, the Vatican said in a statement that the Congregation for Bishops examined the Barros case before his transfer to Osorno and “did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”
Earlier this month, Mr. Saunders and three other members of the child-protection commission traveled to Rome to meet with Cardinal O’Malley and express their concerns about Bishop Barros. The group said in a statement that Cardinal O’Malley had “agreed to present the concerns of the subcommittee to the Holy Father.”
“Barros should also be out now,” Mr. Saunders said on Tuesday. “Every day that goes by makes me wonder what’s going on.”
Mr. Saunders, who had said in February that he would step down from the Vatican panel if it didn’t make progress on child protection and the accountability of bishops over the following year, said Tuesday he thought he and other members would leave even sooner if Bishop Barros wasn’t dismissed.
“It would be inconceivable that any of us, probably, could go to the next plenary (session) in October if Barros is still in place,” he said.
Bishop Barros didn’t respond to a request for comment. Father Lombardi had no further comment on the panel members’ concerns or on the Chilean case.
SANTIAGO, CHILE — Parishioners in a southern Chile diocese are gathering wherever their new bishop appears, but their presence is not the sort of assembly the Catholic Church would expect.
In the month since Bishop Juan Barros was installed in Osorno, the priest has had to sneak out of back exits, call on riot police to shepherd him from the city's cathedral and coordinate movements with bodyguards and police canine units.
Such is the public routine of the bishop who is denounced by his opponents as having shielded Chile's most notorious pedophile priest. For his part, Barros says relations are improving.
The appointment of Barros by Pope Francis has unleashed an unprecedented protest, with more than 1,300 church members, 30 diocesan priests and nearly half of Chile's Parliament sending letters urging the pope to reconsider.
They may be emboldened after Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop, Robert Finn, who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected abuser, answering calls by victims to hold priests accountable and ensure children are protected.
At least three men say Barros was present when they were sexually molested in the 1980s and 1990s by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors, ordered to live out his life cloistered in a nun's convent. Barros has said he knew nothing of Karadima's abuses.
The controversy is being watched by victims, advocacy groups and lawmakers as a test of the pope's promises to crack down on clerical sex abuse. On April 12, members on the pope's sex abuse advisory committee traveled to Rome to voice their concerns.
The pope has not spoken publicly about the case. In late March, however, the Vatican released a statement defending Barros, saying the Congregation for Bishops examined his candidacy "and did not find objective reasons to preclude the appointment."
But many of the Catholic faithful in Osorno, 510 miles (820 kilometers) south of Santiago, are holding to their protest, which they say is gathering support.
"We are beginning to energize our movement and make it more mainstream," said Mario Vargas, 52, a sex-abuse survivor and one of the leaders.
"New faces are joining the protests," said Juan Carlos Claret, one of the organizers.
Barros, who declined repeated requests for an interview, has said the situation has improved since his March 21 installation. He told reporters last week he had met with parishioners and priests in 10 communities and there was "a good understanding and the love of God reigns."
Barros, previously chaplain of Chile's armed forces, has celebrated Mass a half-dozen times, including during Holy Week, but parishioners say attendance is down and the bishop must travel with a police escort to keep protesters at bay.
"You can feel something sour that transcends all kinds of church activities," said Carlos Meza, a 43-year-old parishioner. "It's not just during Masses."
An April 8 meeting between Barros and parishioners fell apart when the bishop showed up with two body guards and police dogs, a move the parishioners said was unnecessarily aggressive.
On a video recorded at the scene and reviewed by the AP, a woman in the group is heard yelling: "We are a pacific lay movement. You can't push us around like this."
Barros joined other bishops last week at a seminary held by the Catholic University in Santiago. About 50 protesters calling for his resignation were out front, but Barros avoided them by exiting through a back door.
Canon law experts say rescinding an appointment would be unprecedented, so Barros likely is there to stay unless he resigns. So far, there is no indication he plans to do so.