Since the formation of the Vatican's Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2013, members have stressed that finding a way to hold accountable bishops who have failed to protect children is a primary goal.
In what can only be viewed as a major step toward making this goals a reality, the Vatican April 21 announced that it has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn, who has led the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, since 2005. In 2012, Bishop Finn was convicted and sentenced to two years court-ordered probation for failing to move quickly enough in reporting an abusive priest to the authorities.
The news of Bishop Finn’s resignation broke when the Vatican released its daily news bulletin at noon Roman time, which stated simply, “The Holy Father has accepted the resignation from the pastoral ministry of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, U.S.A., presented by Bishop Robert W. Finn, in accordance with canon 401 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.” This section of the code states: “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”
The resignation is effective immediately. According to a statement by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, released April 21, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, bishop of Kansas City, Kansas, as apostolic administrator until a permanent replacement is named. He will continue his duties as bishop of Kansas City, Kansas.
“It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith,” Bishop Finn said in the statement. “Please begin already to pray for whomever God may call to be the next Bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.”
In an open letter to the people of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Archbishop Naumann said that he prays “that the coming weeks and months will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese.” His time of leadership, he said, is likely to be “very short” and thus “will not be a time for innovation or change, but a time to sustain the ordinary and essential activities of the Church and where possible to advance the initiatives that already are under way.”
Bishop Finn’s resignation comes after he was the subject of a Vatican investigation, first reported in late September. The so-called apostolic visitation was conducted by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, who traveled to Missouri to interview several individuals about Bishop Finn’s leadership. At the time, the diocese confirmed the visit, saying that the bishop and the diocese “fully cooperated” and did “not know what, if anything, will follow.”
The results of that investigation, it seems, led to Bishop Finn’s resignation. While unexpected, it is not altogether surprising given that a main focus of members of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, has centered on finding a way to hold bishops accountable when it comes to the protection of children. In February, Cardinal O’Malley said the group, whose 17 members include 10 laypeople, two of whom are survivors of sexual abuse, is “very, very concerned” about how bishops should be held accountable when they fail to protect children. To that end, he said the commission had drafted “some very practical recommendations” for accountability to be presented to Pope Francis.
Marie Collins, one of the abuse survivors on the commission, confirmed in an interview with Crux on April 20 that the recommendations had been passed along to the Holy Father. During the same interview, Collins had harsh words for Bishop Finn: “I cannot understand how Bishop Finn is still in position, when anyone else with a conviction that he has could not run a Sunday school in a parish,” she said. “He wouldn’t pass a background check. I don’t know how anybody like that could be left in charge of a diocese.”
In a tweet on Tuesday, Marie Collins, one of the survivors, said: “Bishop Finn has resigned. Things are moving slowly as I have said many times but they are moving in the right direction!”
Bishop Finn, 62, is a native of St. Louis. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1979, named coadjutor bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph in 2004 and became bishop in 2005.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.