Kansas City priest defends Finn, alleges ulterior motive in bishop's prosecution

Kansas City, Mo. — A priest's letter alleging political motivations for the prosecution of Bishop Robert Finn prompted responses Wednesday from both the local prosecutor and the apostolic administrator of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese.

Fr. Gregory Lockwood, parochial administrator of Christ the King Parish in southern Kansas City and a close friend of Finn, said while mistakes occurred in the case of former priest Shawn Ratigan, currently serving 50 years in prison for child pornography, he questioned the legal process that led to Finn's 2012 misdemeanor conviction.

Finn resigned April 21 as head of the diocese, with Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann named as its administrator. In October 2011, Finn and the diocese were charged with failure to report suspected child abuse in relation to Ratigan, who pled guilty in 2012 on federal charges of possessing and producing child pornography. In September 2012, a Jackson County judge found Finn guilty on one misdemeanor count of failing to report.

"There were definitely mistakes made in handling the situation by people who, it turned out, were in over their heads, but there was never any malice, or impulse to cover up anything," Lockwood said in a letter inserted in the weekend bulletin addressed to Christ the King parishioners.

He continued: "There is no forbearance or forgiveness for this man who pled no contest to a politically motivated charge filed by an ambitious prosecutor with strong ties to the abortion industry, so that he might save his local church the pain and cost of a public trial. The statute used was not even applicable to what happened, but such is our legal and political society."

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The accusation of ulterior motives led Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who brought the charges against Finn, to respond by saying Lockwood's letter contained "misinformation" and "misstatements."

"I run this office as a prosecutor, not a politician, and I have sought convictions for those who have harmed our community," she wrote in her own letter -- a copy of which was obtained by the Kansas City Star -- to Christ the King parishioners and Naumann.

"As your prosecutor, I am guided by this truth: no one is above the law, no matter our position or title. Children especially nee this to be true, and abused children's lives may depend on it," Baker wrote.

In his own brief statement, Naumann said there's nothing to gain "by picking at old wounds."

"While everyone has a right to free expression, in my opinion it serves no good purpose at this point to rehash a story that has had so many tragic consequences. There is nothing to be gained by picking at old wounds and speaking uncharitably about one another," he said.

Addressing descriptions by Lockwood of "champagne corks popped" and celebrations following Finn's exit as head of the diocese, Naumann said he was "disheartened" that some have responded with attacks on Finn and the church.

"My prayer is that when the new Bishop arrives he will find a Catholic community united and eager to work with him in making the love of Jesus more alive and tangible in our community," the archbishop said.

In his letter, Lockwood, who also serves as secretary for seminarians in the diocesan vocations office, attributed Finn's resignation to "a long, bitter, nasty campaign by many of our brothers and sisters, who, for whatever reason, were convinced that he needed to go." He said the push for Finn's departure had less to do with the Ratigan affair and more so with Finn rejecting "their view of church reality" largely tied to Vatican II ideas.

"If this had happened on another, more popular bishop's watch, the aftermath we have seen would not have occurred, because the motivation for the mob-scene that ensued was Bishop Finn's fidelity to a classical concept of the church, not the cover-up of any misconduct," he wrote.

"No one has won anything here; we've all lost. An honorable man has been unjustly disgraced, and we have sacrificed his dignity and our own in a rush to punish and destroy, things antithetical to everything our common faith represents," Lockwood said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]


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