Pope Accepts Resignation of American Bishop


On Tuesday, April 21, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. Technically, Finn was not removed, rather, he offered to resign after his involvement in a sexual abuse scandal. In 2012, he was convicted of failure to report child abuse while the abuser in question, Reverend Shawn Ratigan, kept his job. Finn has retained his job in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph since then.

Reverend Shawn Ratigan was discovered to have taken hundreds of lewd photographs of young girls around his church. Ratigan’s photographs were discovered in 2010 by the diocese, and he attempted to commit suicide after they were revealed. Finn waited six months to report him to police, leading to an outcry for his removal throughout his diocese and the world. He was convicted of a misdemeanor and sentenced to two years of probation. Finn is the first American clergyperson, and thus the highest-ranking American clergyperson, to be removed for failing to respond to allegations of abuse and paedophilia.

During the last ten years, thousands of clergy members have been stripped of their rank after involvement in sexual scandals and predatory behavior or their role in hiding the guilty parties from law enforcement. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had lost a quarter of its members since 2005, when Finn was appointed, and the Vatican made no move to remove him after he was convicted in 2012. In their official statement, the Vatican gave no reason for accepting Finn’s resignation, despite the fact that he is 13 years short of the typical retirement age.

Pope Francis is also facing pressure to remove Chilean Bishop Juan Barros after his affiliation with Chile’s infamous child molester Reverend Fernando Karadima. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 after a report detailing his abuse of children was released in 2010. Barros denied knowing about his misconduct until he read the 2010 report, while victims of Karadima assert that Barros witnessed them being abused.

Francis took a vow of “zero tolerance” upon assuming the papacy in 2013, and since then, little has been done to curb the flagrant abuses of office often seen amongst high-ranking clergy. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, addressed the problem of sexual abuse within the church, but did very little to punish those convicted of sexual abuse or involved in sex scandals. The Vatican’s failure to act on the case in Kansas led many to declare that even under Francis’ “zero tolerance” policy, the Vatican was still turning a blind eye to abusive clergy members.

Anne Barrett Doyle, the leader of the online abuse database BishopAccountability.org, called this a victory but asked Pope Francis to make a statement saying that Finn resigned because of his involvement in protecting Ratigan from the consequences of his sexual abuses. She also noted that bishops have been allowed to resign under the two previous popes, and the Vatican has never actually linked their resignations to sexual abuse scandals.

Kansas Archbishop Joseph Naumann will take Robert Finn’s place as apostolic leader of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The closure of this marks one of the most notorious and drawn out clerical abuse scandals still running.