But even as he became the first U.S. bishop ever convicted in criminal court for shielding an abusive priest, Finn’s standing inside the church appears uncertain, and the subject of intense debate.
Should he stay or should he go? Finn has indicated that he wants to tough it out.
“The Bishop looks forward to continuing to perform his duties, including carrying out the important obligations placed on him by the Court,” Finn’s spokesman, Jack Smith, said in a statement to Religion News Service on Friday.
Pope Benedict XVI is the only one with the authority to force a bishop from office, and the Vatican said nothing on Friday about Finn.
Meanwhile, the point man on the abuse crisis for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., was circumspect about Finn’s conviction.
Conlon, who recently acknowledged that the hierarchy’s credibility on abuse was “shredded” in part because of cases like Finn’s, said that he did not know the details of the trial. He instead stressed that the bishops stood by their policy of reporting all allegations to police and complying with all local laws on reporting.
“Church officials have committed themselves to follow the Charter” — the policies on abuse that the bishops adopted in 2002 — “and are bound by civil and canon law,” Conlon said Friday.
But others directly called on Finn to step down.
“For the good of the diocese and the church, I think he should apologize and resign. Then a new bishop can begin the healing process,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center.
“The judge found him guilty,” said Reese, a Jesuit priest. “There is no way he can lead the diocese after that.”
Nicholas Cafardi, a canon and civil lawyer at the Duquesne Law School in Pittsburgh, said that Finn could be dismissed under canon law. He also noted that in the past year Benedict removed a bishop suspected of financial improprieties and another who suggested that the church debate the issue of allowing women and married priests.
In an email, Cafardi said that in Finn’s case it shouldn’t come to that.
“The best solution for the Church here ... is not a canonical process or even Finn’s forced removal,” said Cafardi, a former head of the bishops’ National Review Board that was established to ensure compliance with their own reforms. “It is that Finn put the good of his diocese above his personal ambitions and his need for power and resign immediately. After this, how can he face his people or his priests?”