Kansas City priest sees Vatican investigation of Bishop Finn as 'positive'

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The call was unexpected, its purpose vague.

Around Sept. 16, Fr. Patrick Rush of Visitation Parish in Kansas City was contacted by a woman religious at a small convent in eastern Kansas. She said she was calling on behalf of the pope's ambassador to the United States and that Ottawa, Ontario, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast had requested a meeting with him. The basis for it was not given.

Rush, a priest of 45 years and former vicar general for the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese, met with the archbishop and a priest taking notes Sept. 22 at the convent in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. Within the first few minutes of the meeting, Rush told NCR he learned that Prendergast "was interviewing people who had written to the nuncio, both pro and con," about the diocese and leadership of Bishop Robert Finn, on orders from Rome.

On Monday, NCR broke news of the Vatican's investigation of Finn, which the diocese has since confirmed. Later that day, Rush first spoke about his interview with the Canadian archbishop with The Kansas City Star.

He described the hourlong meeting as "a nice back-and-forth." Rush said he wasn't sure why he was contacted for an interview, but said his 11 years as vicar general under Bishop Raymond Boland might have played a part. He added he had once copied the nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, on a letter to Finn, but had not written to Viganò directly regarding the bishop.

Rush also contacted the nuncio while serving as "episcopal vicar with special mandate" during the criminal trials of Finn and the diocese -- a role that in an effort to avoid a conflict of interest gave him decision-making authority over the diocese's legal defense. He said "in that capacity," he wrote Viganò "for direction of me, not for anything regarding Bishop Finn."

"[Prendergast] actually said he didn't know why he was selected," Rush added, though the archbishop noted he had conducted a similar investigation in Ireland and presumed the Vatican may have wanted someone from outside the United States.

The Kansas City pastor said questions asked of him "were about Bishop Finn's leadership, about my reaction to Bishop Finn's leadership, and about my assessment of the people, primarily of my parish but more broadly also in a secondary way of the diocese and the city, of their reaction to Bishop Finn's leadership."

Asked if the conversation with the Canadian archbishop touched on Finn's misdemeanor conviction, Rush said they discussed how the accusations against former priest Shawn Ratigan were handled, what legal advice was given, and the fallout from the conviction.

"[Prendergast] basically said, 'This is going to be difficult because I get both sides, I get two sides.' And then he said, 'Once I make my recommendation, there's no guarantee that the Vatican will accept the recommendation I make, whatever the recommendation is,' " Rush said.

Rush told NCR the investigation is "significant" because, to his knowledge, it's a first for the diocese.

He said he had wanted something like this to happen because he often receives questions from people confused why the larger church "seems to take no interest in the perceived problems of our diocese.

"I was wanting them to know that the larger church does have a concern -- concern in a positive way -- that it does legitimately investigate situations that seem to be out of the ordinary, out of line," he said.

Rush said he has no expectations for the investigation's outcome.

"I think that people who are concerned will be reassured. I think people who are supporters will have increased anxieties. But beyond that, I can't speak to what might come out of it," he said.

Still, he said he considers it a positive that the Vatican is looking at the local situation.

"I think the church does not suffer from being transparent. I think the church does not suffer from being seen as looking for the truth," he said.

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

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