Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn from his post as pastor of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri. The bishop was the first Catholic prelate to be convicted by a civil court in the United States for the criminal ‘misdemeanor’ of not reporting a priest who was a danger to children.
The Vatican broke the news, midday April 21, saying the Pope “has accepted the resignation from the pastoral governance of the diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph (USA) presented by H.E. Monsignor Robert W. Finn, in conformity with Canon 401#2 of the Code of Canon Law”.
Section 2 of that Canon 401 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”.
The Pope’s decision came as no surprise. It reflects his determination to hold bishops accountable for their handling of cases relating to the sexual abuse of minors, and for failing to act to protect children from predators. He took it after first ordering an in-depth investigation into the case following Finn’s conviction by a civil court on 6 Sept. 2012, for failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest of his diocese who had pornographic photos of children on his computer, which the diocese knew about from Dec. 2010. The then vicar-general reported the matter to the police in May 2011, an act which upset the bishop, according to various reports.
There have been repeated calls for the bishop’s removal since his conviction over 2 years ago, but the Vatican took time in evaluating the case and, meanwhile, Finn continued to govern the diocese and remained an active member of the U.S. Bishops Conference.
In 2012, Bishop Finn was found guilty by a Jackson Country, Mo., Circuit Court Judge, John Torrence, in a trial without a jury that lasted less than one day. The judge imposed a two year suspended sentence of probation on him, with nine conditions, for failing to report a Kansas City priest, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, who had sexually graphic images of minors on his computer, once he knew of this. The priest was arrested in May 2011 and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to prison for 50 years.
On learning about the case, Pope Francis decided to intervene. At his instruction, the Vatican sent the Archbishop of Ontario, Terrence Prendergast S.J.to investigate the case, examine how Finn was governing his diocese, and hear what key people had to say. The Canadian prelate visited the diocese in September 2014, spoke with many, and subsequently submitted his report to the Holy See. That report was studied in the Vatican, and further deliberations took place, at the conclusion of which Pope Francis took the decision that Finn could not continue as bishop of the diocese. Finn was asked to hand in his resignation.
Bishop Finn was born in Missouri, and studied for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome and graduated from the university of St Thomas known as “the Angelicum”, was ordained priest for the archdiocese of St. Louis in 1971. After working in various posts in the archdiocese under Cardinal Justin Regali, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph in 2004 by John Paul II, and succeeded as bishop in May 2005.