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What makes Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn's resignation so significant

What makes Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn's resignation so significant

Kansas City Bishop Robert W. Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop to be convicted for his role in the church’s sex abuse scandals, resigned on Tuesday. Here are the basics on why his departure is so significant:

Finn has faced pressure to step down for years

Finn was convicted in September 2012 of failing to report sexual abuse by one of his priests, Father Shawn Ratigan, whose laptop contained hundreds of images of child pornography. Finn later acknowledged that he and other diocesan officials had known about the photos for five months but did not report Ratigan to police.

A judge found Finn guilty of the misdemeanor charge and sentenced him to two years' probation, which included extensive training for staff and clergy and creation of a fund for counseling abuse victims.

Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Finn faced pressure to resign following the conviction, including from within his own ranks. An online petition demanding his resignation had been signed by more than 260,000 people.

Finn is the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official to be held criminally responsible for church sex abuse

No other U.S. bishop has been convicted for covering up sexual abuse by priests. The only other U.S. Catholic official to be convicted of a cover-up was William J. Lynn, a monsignor from Philadelphia, who was sentenced to three to six years in prison in July 2012, two months before Finn was convicted.

No official reason was given for Finn's resignation

Finn, 62, was about 13 years away from a bishop’s normal retirement age of 75.

There was no reason given for Finn’s resignation in the Vatican’s terse announcement Tuesday, but Pope Francis cited a section of Vatican law that refers to situations where a bishop has “become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause.”

It’s rare for a bishop to resign early

It is pretty rare for U.S. bishops to abruptly resign prior to the retirement age of 75 for reasons other than poor health. According to the National Catholic Reporter, which closely follows the Vatican, only one other bishop among nearly 200 dioceses has resigned under similar circumstances in the past decade.

A 2002 investigation by the Dallas Morning News identified 109 bishops accused of enabling sexual abuse within the U.S. church. According to 2010 data compiled by BishopAccountability.org, a site that has tracked the abuse scandal, 45 of those bishops named by the Dallas Morning News had retired, 15 were promoted, 12 resigned, and three died in office. One bishop’s role as administrator ended and a new bishop took over.

According to the site, 24 U.S. Catholic bishops have been publicly accused of sexually abusing minors. Of those, four are still working, 16 retired and four died in office.

How will the resignation affect the Kansas City diocese?

According to a statement from the Diocese of Kansas City, the pope has appointed Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who oversees the Diocese of Kansas City in Kansas, as an apostolic administrator until a permanent bishop is appointed.

“This 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,” Naumann said in a statement. 

Critics say Finn’s resignation won’t do much to hold others in the Catholic hierarchy accountable

While some hailed Finn’s departure as the beginning of a long-awaited healing process for the sex abuse scandal that rocked the diocese, many pointed out that Finn was allowed to resign, rather than being removed by the pope.

“Finn’s resignation will bring short-term relief to thousands of Catholics, and hundreds of victims in Kansas City, but there’s a vast difference between short-term relief and long-term reform,” said David Clohessy, of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Earlier this year, the Vatican commission appointed to advise the pope on clergy sexual abuse discussed creating consequences for Catholic bishops who don’t follow guidelines for preventing and reporting abuse, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley told the National Catholic Reporter.

Asked in November why Finn had not resigned despite his conviction, O’Malley told "60 Minutes" it was a "question that the Holy See needs to address urgently."

“The notion of new or more protocols or policies to deal with this crisis is ludicrous,” Clohessy told The Times. “When several dozen complicit bishops are publicly and clearly fired by the Vatican, that will show real progress.”

At least one bishop has been removed after being accused of mishandling sex abuse charges

In September, the pope removed Bishop Rogelio Livieres Plano of Paraguay, who had been accused of mishandling sex abuse accusations there. But the Vatican later denied that the sex abuse claims had any significant bearing on the bishop’s dismissal.

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