Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dodging a second bullet (and a snippy response from SNAP)

Bp. Robert W. Finn

The Kansas City Star reports that Bp. Robert Finn has entered into an agreement with Clay County prosecutor Daniel White for a diversion program. The program consists of monthly meetings with White to discuss any allegations against Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese clergy or staff, as well as the steps taken. Reporters Glenn E. Rice, Judy L. Thomas and Mark Morris note, "Other Catholic dioceses around the country also have averted criminal prosecution by striking agreements with authorities, including Manchester, N.H., Phoenix, Cincinnati and Santa Rosa, Calif."

Bishop Finn has already pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report in his handling of the allegation of child pornography against Fr. Shawn Ratigan, now in federal custody. This charge, in Jackson County, is not affected by the agreement with Clay County.

SNAP board member Peter Isely complains, “Finn has now done here what bishops have almost always done — make any promises, payment or plea deal to avoid having to face tough questions in open court about their disgraceful and irresponsible deception. Catholics, citizens and children need and deserve the truth. The truth surfaces in court. That’s what bishops work overtime to avoid. And that’s what Finn has achieved here — he’s taken the cheap, easy, convenient way out, avoiding real scrutiny and concealing damaging misdeeds.”

Isely's rant, with its conspiracy-theorist overtones, is misplaced. The program was put together with the full consent and participation of prosecutor White; surely if it was his intention to mount a full-scale assault against +Finn, there would be no discussion of such a program, far less an agreement. Moreover, we're talking misdemeanor charges in county courts, not a RICO indictment in the federal system. As long as +Finn still faces court action in Jackson Co., it's not clear what truth would have come out in Clay County that won't come out in Jackson.

Indeed, it's not clear what truth is being "hidden". Contrary to Isley's idealistic rhetoric, trial is not where truth is discovered. Rather, trial is for securing a criminal conviction; indeed, as we saw in the O. J. Simpson double-homicide case, truth can be (and often is) obscured in the trial process. If either county prosecutor or the federal government were certain of any criminal deceptiveness on the part of +Finn or his staff, we wouldn't be looking at mere misdemeanor charges. As usual, a member of SNAP has succeeded in making the victim-advocacy group appear not righteous but rather petty, petulant and ridiculous.

Which is not to say that the Ordinary of KC-Saint Joe is therefore off the hook. The Blogger Who Must Not Be Named observes anent the Penn State scandal:
I find it stunning–still, after all these years of appalling revelations from Catholics (both ass-covering bishops and laity who did nothing when the abuse against their own children was discovered)–that people need to be told, “When a crime is committed against a kid, you call the cops.” If it were an isolated incident, that would be one thing. But that this happens over and over across a wide cross-section of people having nothing in common but membership in the species homo sapiens, I start to wonder what it is about us that makes us hesitate to confront the face of outrageous evil.

Indeed, "if the Milgram experiments are any indication, a huge percentage of people are pretty well programmed to avoid trouble with authority figures rather than open a can of whupass." It's much easier to talk like a Barney Badass than it is to drop a dime on someone you know and care about. Just ask David Clohessy, who despite his self-righteous indignation with bishops and priests the country over could not make himself report his own brother Kevin, a priest who was accused of molesting students.

It's easy to vilify a stranger or an Authority Figure for not doing the right thing. It's hard to do the right thing when people you love and trust will be destroyed by it. And that's how crimes like sexual abuse and child pornography can survive even in a child-friendly society, let alone a culture that views children as consumer products (like ours).