The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Universe Bends a Little More Toward Justice: Bishop Finn "Resigns"

From The National Catholic Reporter:
Bishop Robert Finn, the Catholic prelate in the U.S. heartland who became a symbol internationally of the church's failures in addressing the sexual abuse crisis, has resigned. He was the first bishop criminally convicted of mishandling an abusive priest yet remained in office for another two and a half years.
The Vatican announced Finn's resignation as head of the diocese of St. Joseph-Kansas City, Mo., in a note in its daily news bulletin Tuesday.

While the note did not provide any reason for the move, it is rare for bishops in the Catholic church to resign without cause before they reach the traditional retirement age of 75.

Finn, who is 62 and had led the diocese since 2005, was neither assigned a new diocese nor as yet given a new leadership role in the church.

Other than for reasons of health, only one other bishop among the some 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses and eparchies has resigned his role in such a manner in at least the past decade.
The hell-busted old public defender who will ever be a part of my psyche takes no joy in the conviction of anyone, let alone a man who dedicated his life to serving God to the best of his ability.

But it had to be.

I do not feel schadenfreude that the bishop was given the sack--albeit the ermine lined, velvet sack, allowing him to resign.

But that too had to be.

In 2011, I published Command and Coercion: Clerical Immunity, Scandal, and the Sex Abuse Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church (the final paper, subscription required; working paper available here). In it, I argued, I think convincingly, that the key to understanding the massive international cover up by the Church hierarchy, from top to bottom, of sexual abuse of children by priests is the doctrine that the Church is not subject to the secular state, and that its clergy, broadly defined, are immune from secular punishment. This doctrine has its jurisprudential roots in St. Augustine's City of God, became binding on state as well as Church in the wake of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, and survived for centuries as benefit of clergy, or, more formally, privilegium fori. While the immunity's recognition withered in secular law, it found its way into the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law. In other words, the Church still taught that its clerics were immune from secular jurisdiction for crimes including raper and murder.

Since the publication of "Command and Coercion" a rather good book along similar lines has appeared--Potiphar's Wife: The Vatican's Secret and Child Sexual Abuse, by barrister and canonist Kieran Tapsell. Actually, I'm quite glad to see his book come out, for some of the reasons given by Fr. Tom Doyle in his perceptive review. Tapsell is lighter on the history than is my own work, but is, I think, a little more adroit with the impact of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. So, far from feeling displaced by his work, I think it complements my own, and does some of the work that I, as an amateur canonist, could not do as confidently. Tapsell brings an Australian perspective to the story, as well, and reminds us that this is not an exclusively American, or even Western story, but one that engulfed the Church around the world.

The hierarchy has, prior to Bishop Finn's forced resignation, been immune from consequences. That it took over 2 years from his criminal conviction for the Pope to act is to Francis's discredit--but act he did, at last.

The wall of clericalism has been breached. One must hope that the work of Fr. Tom Doyle, of all the good people at SNAP, and Bishop Accountability, and lawyers like Jeffrey Anderson, will continue. This is not the end, but it may be the end of the beginning.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comment on my book. I read in part you article (before JSTOR crashed) and would like to read the rest of it. Nevertheless I can see that your general drift and mine are the same - the creation of a de facto privilege of clergy where the impossibility of maintaining a de iure one was becoming apparent. Since publication of the book in May last year, I have been doing a bit more work on the history side, particularly in relation to the Spanish Inquisition and its treatment of clergy for the sexual abuse of children. You can contact me on
Kieran Tapsell

Anglocat said...

Delighted to have your comment; I'll email you this evening, after work.

All best,