Apostolic nuncio confirms receipt of Bishop Finn appeal

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Waiting may prove the hardest part as a petition seeking a canonical review of Bishop Robert Finn is en route to Rome.

Catholics here received notification Friday from the apostolic nuncio to the U.S. that he had received and forwarded to the Vatican their formal request for a canonical penal process investigating Finn, bishop of the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese.

In his brief, two-sentence letter, dated Feb. 15, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano stated, "I acknowledge receipt of your letter of February 11, 2014 addressed to me. The correspondence which you sent has been forwarded to the Holy See."

In mid-February, the group, in tandem with Fr. Jim Connell, a retired Milwaukee priest and canon lawyer, made the appeal outlining their case that Finn violated church law by not promptly reporting suspicions of child sexual abuse by Fr. Shawn Ratigan. In such a scenario, it states, canon law gives the pope authority to investigate a prelate and, when necessary, enact a "just penalty."

Connell, a member of the victims' advocacy group Catholic Whistleblowers, told NCR Friday he was "delighted" when he found the letter in his mail.

"I am pleased that Archbishop Vigano promptly forwarded the material to the Vatican. It demonstrates that the apostolic nuncio appreciates the importance of our request of Pope Francis concerning Bishop Finn," he said.

As for the next step, Connell said all they can do is wait for the pope to act.

"What else can we do?" he said. "If we don't hear anything in a couple of months, I think it's fair game then that the nuncio hear from us."

In September, Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison on child pornography charges. A year earlier, Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor in a Jackson County, Mo., courtroom and avoided a similar charge that November in nearby Clay County by agreeing to a diversion compliance agreement that includes regular meetings with the county prosecutor for five years.

Clay County Prosecutor Dan White confirmed to NCR Thursday that the bishop continues to meet with him monthly to discuss reported suspicions of alleged abuse of minors, and Finn fulfilled his commitment to meet with each of the county's parishes early on in the agreement.

"I'm happy with the open dialogue that's occurring about anything that comes to [Finn] or the diocese about something in relation to the parishes in the county," White said.

Despite those civil decisions, the appeal Vigano forwarded to the Holy See holds that the church still must address Finn's role in the Ratigan case, which has caused scandal among Kansas City Catholics that is leading people to alter their faith lives.

"Civil law has done what civil law can do. The church has done nothing in terms of calling Bishop Finn to accountability. He continues as bishop as if nothing really ever happened," Mercy Sr. Jeanne Christensen, among those behind the appeal, told local media Monday.

While Christensen and others prefer that Finn resign or is removed as bishop, the appeal offered no suggested action to Pope Francis. Instead, it limited its request that the church address the matter in some way.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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