The Vatican on Tuesday announced the resignation of a Kansas City, Mo., bishop who was convicted of a sex abuse coverup but remained in office – a fact that particularly horrified abuse survivors and their advocates. Bishop Robert Finn’s resignation will be seen as a key achievement for Pope Francis, who has said his papacy would show more accountability for abuse within the church.
The Vatican announced the resignation of Finn, 62, in an unspecific, brief note in its daily bulletin:
“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.”
That section of the code reads: “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.”
Finn, in an e-mailed statement from the diocese, said, “It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith.”
Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop Joseph Naumann will be the Missouri diocese’s administrator until a new bishop is appointed, according to Kansas City, Mo., diocese spokesman Jack Smith.
Naumann said in an e-mailed statement that he wanted the next few months to be a “a time of grace and healing” for the Missouri diocese.
Finn was the only U.S. bishop to be criminally convicted in an abuse coverup. He received two years of probation in 2012 for not telling authorities after a computer technician found hundreds of images of child pornography on a priest’s laptop and told Finn. Finn remained in office for three more years.
While rare, it is not unprecedented for a pope to accept the resignation of a bishop after confirmation of his complicity in clergy abuse.
Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of clergy abuse watchdog Bishop Accountability, said in a statement that the resignation was “a good step but just a beginning.”
Doyle urged the pope to demonstrate the beginning of “a new era in bishop accountability” by making a public statement that Finn’s resignation was a result of the bishop’s “failure to make children’s safety his first priority.”
In a statement, David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called Finn’s resignation “a tiny but belated step forward.”
“After centuries of abuse and cover up done in secrecy, and decades of abuse and cover up done somewhat in public,” Clohessy said, “one pope has finally seen fit to oust one bishop for complicity in clergy sex crimes. That’s encouraging. But it’s only a very tiny drop of reform in an enormous bucket of horror.”
Particularly outspoken about Finn was Marie Collins, who sits on Francis’ advisory commission on abuse. Collins and others have helped keep Finn in the spotlight as a powerful symbol of what critics see as the church’s lack of accountability.
Bishop Finn has resigned. Things are moving slowly as I have said many times but they are moving in the right direction!— Marie Collins (@marielco) April 21, 2015
Collins was quoted in a piece this week, published before Finn’s resignation on Crux, a Catholic news site, as saying the pope’s advisory panel had given him a proposal for how to punish bishops who failed to protect minors from sexual abuse.
“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. He wouldn’t pass a background check,” she said in an interview with Crux. “I don’t know how anybody like that could be left in charge of a diocese.”
A three-year-old petition calling for the resignation of Finn had collected 263,588 signatures as of Tuesday. The petition’s initiator, a local Catholic named Jeff Weis, said in an email to The Post that the “prayers of this hurt community have been answered” by Finn’s resignation.
Finn will remain a bishop, Crux reported, but won’t lead a diocese. Francis will name his successor.
[This post has been updated multiple times]