Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of a bishop who was convicted three years ago of protecting a sexually abusive priest.
Robert Finn, of Kansas City diocese, had long been seen as the poster child of the Vatican's failure to adequately address sex abuse. He was the highest-ranking US church official to have been found guilty of an abuse-related crime, but had not been made by the church to suffer any consequences for that verdict.
The resignation was announced yesterday by the Holy See as Pope Francis came under pressure in a separate case involving Bishop Juan Barros of Chile, who has also been accused of shielding a paedophile priest.
The Vatican’s daily news bulletin revealed Bishop Finn’s resignation. He will retain the title of bishop but will no longer lead the Kansas City diocese. Such abrupt resignations are exceedingly rare. Over the past decade, only one bishop among 200 in US dioceses has resigned in a similar fashion, according to the National Catholic Reporter, a media outlet that closely follows the Vatican.
Slow to respond
The news will be welcomed by abuse advocates and critics of Pope Francis who have accused the Vatican of being far too slow to respond to Bishop Finn’s conviction.
In an interview in March, Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor who sits on a special Vatican committee to address the church’s legacy of abuse, said the committee would prove to be a “pointless exercise” if Bishop Finn were not removed immediately and the case in Chile remained unresolved.
Bishop Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanour charge in 2012 after he failed to alert authorities to the fact that pornographic images of young girls had been found on the computer of a priest in his charge, Shawn Ratigan.
Bishop Finn was sentenced to two years’ probation and his diocese was fined $1 million.
Abuse advocates began calling for Bishop Finn’s resignation three years ago, but the demands fell on deaf ears. Church officials said at the time that the bishop would continue to carry out the “important obligations placed on him by the court”.
The resignation is likely to be seen as sending a message about how the church intends to deal with officials who are accused of covering up sex abuse.
Another survivor of clerical sex abuse, Irish woman Marie Collins – who also sits on the committee – has been critical of Pope Francis's handling of the Barros case.
The Chilean bishop was nominated in January to the small diocese of Osorno, despite allegations by some child sex abuse survivors that he covered up abuse by his former mentor, a priest called Fernando Karadima.
Some have accused the bishop of personally observing the abuse as it occurred. Bishop Barros has repeatedly denied the claim.
The Vatican issued a rare statement of support for the bishop in March, saying it had found no “objective reason” to stop the appointment. That did not satisfy abuse advocates, however, who recently held an emergency meeting with Cardinal Sean O’Malley to try to convince the pope to act on the case.
Some Vatican experts say it is unlikely that Pope Francis will force Bishop Barros’s resignation or change his mind.
Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the Argentinian pontiff, said the pope was unlikely to act if a church official had not formally been accused or investigated, because to do so would be seen as an unjust resolution.
Bishop Finn's resignation may be seen as setting a standard in which bishops will only be ousted if, like him, they have been convicted of a crime. – (Guardian service)