Think that Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn’s recent guilty plea is a shock to Rome? Alas, for the Holy See, this is nothing new. The real question in the case of the Kansas City Bishop is: What options does the Holy See have available?
From the Roman viewpoint, this is a delicate balancing act. On one side, the Holy See does not want to concede to the “people” demanding the removal of Finn. Why? Because it is reminiscent of 19th century Lay Trusteeism. On the other side, the embarrassment of how Finn handled the Shawn Ratigan case (nearly ten years after the Charter and Norms were promulgated) is scandalous.
Here is a list of management techniques deployed by the Holy See in recent history to snuff out scandal created by Bishops. The management techniques fall into two categories: Geographic and Privation of Office.
As a new priest twenty years ago, I saw the results of the Vatican quietly removing Bishop Lawrence Welsh of Spokane, WA.
Larry sexually assaulted a teenage prostitute in Chicago while at a Knights of Columbus convention. Larry was the national Chaplain to the Knights. Chicago police investigated and the Spokane newspaper exposed it.
The Holy See acted quickly, neutralizing the scandal by saying that Welsh was arrested for drunk driving and applying the “Geographic Solution.” Larry was removed as the Ordinary of Spokane and relocated to Saint Paul/Minneapolis.
Privation of Office
The privation of office is a management technique that has at least eight different tactics. The first is to transfer the bishop to the “missions” on another continent. Second is to remove and sometimes invalidate his episcopal ordination. A third common technique is to send the bishop for chemical addiction treatment (see Welsh above). Fourth is to order the bishop attend a sexual abuse treatment program. Fifth is the traditional solution of ordering the bishop to a life of prayer and penance in a monastery. Sixth is to send the bishop to become a chaplain in a remote area. Seventh is to quietly retire him to an emeritus status. Lastly, they’ll jet the guy out of town and transfer him to Rome.
Here are more than a few examples of canon 416 (privation of office) actions that Rome has performed on members of the Hierarchy of recent memory:
a. Bishop Lawrence Welsh of Spokane was removed, sent to “alcohol treatment,” and transferred to be an Auxiliary Bishop in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
b. Bishop Emerson Moore of New York was removed and sent to Hazelden. Bishop Moore died in an AIDS hospice in Stillwater, Minnesota.
c. Bishop Thomas Dupre of Springfield, Mass was removed and sent to Saint Luke Institute.
d. Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell of Jefferson City, MO was removed and sent to live a life of prayer and penance at Mepkin Abbey.
e. Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe was removed and sent to be a chaplain at a small convent of Hispanic nuns in southwestern Minnesota with summers in Anchorage.
f. Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, CA was removed and sent to live in a house on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery in Tucson.
g. Several Bishops immediately resigned upon allegations of moral turpitude and then they remained as bishop emeritus. Bishop Kendrick Williams of Lexington Ky. Bishop Joseph Symons of Palm Beach, FL. Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester, Mass. Bishop Christopher Weldon of Springfield Mass.
h. Abbot Laurence Soper O.S.B. was removed and sent to Rome. Now he has an interpol arrest warrant out for his arrest for failure to appear on child abuse allegations in the U.K.
i. Abbot John Eidenschink O.S.B. was removed and made a chaplain in a tiny town in northern minnesota.
More stories could be recounted but the evidence is substantial. The Holy See—through its many Vatican offices—has the power, authority and knowledge of what to do.
As to Bishop Finn? Let’s spin the wheel. Since he has a criminal record (unlike many of his counterparts above) we may all end up being surprised.