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Bishop snared in abuse scandal criticizes Catholic newspaper

January 28, 2013|By Matt Pearce | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., who was convicted of shielding priests from sexual abuse allegations, is in a war of words with with the independent National Catholic Reporter newspaper, which has sharply criticized him.
Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., who was convicted of shielding… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)

Bishop Robert W. Finn wishes the independent National Catholic Reporter weren't so independent.

Finn is the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri. The National Catholic Reporter is a 48-year-old not-for-profit newspaper based in Kansas City.

Finn was convicted in September of shielding priests from sexual-abuse allegations -- prompting editorials from the newspaper calling for his resignation. Now, Finn, who is on probation, has taken to his own diocese's journalistic bully pulpit to denounce the paper.

"In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues," Finn wrote this weekend in his diocese's newspaper, the Catholic Key.

Finn noted that the National Catholic Reporter had long been a thorn in the side of Kansas City bishops; in 1968, one tried to get the publication to remove "Catholic" from its name.

Early in his tenure, Finn said, when he solicited the newspaper to "submit their bona fides as a Catholic media outlet in accord with the expectations of church law, they declined to participate, indicating that they considered themselves an 'independent newspaper which commented on "things Catholic."' At other times, correspondence has seemed to reach a dead end."

The National Catholic Reporter has won awards for its investigative reporting and has been covering church sex scandals since 1985, National Catholic Reporter publisher and former editor Tom Fox told the Kansas City Star.

“We are a Catholic publication, but independent of the church structure. That’s one of the keys to our credibility," Fox told the Star, adding of Finn, "He’s hurting. I know he thinks he’s doing his job."

According to the original criminal indictment against Finn, sometime in 2010 or 2011 Finn discovered that a priest's laptop computer contained "hundreds of photographs of children … including a child's naked vagina, up-skirt images and images focused on the crotch." Finn, who did not report his knowledge of the priest's photos for months, became the first bishop convicted in the U.S. in the church's sprawling child-abuse scandal.

Finn has been apologetic; the National Catholic Reporter's writers, less so.

"No one is suggesting Finn can't be forgiven his sins. Indeed, forgiveness is precisely what God always stands ready to offer," Bill Tammeus wrote in a December column published on the publication's website.

"But when someone in a position of ecclesial authority has failed in so spectacular a way that even a secular court has found him guilty, he has the obligation to do what he can to avoid further damage to what Finn often calls -- in words that should make him quake -- Holy Mother Church."

In other words: Resign.

Finn has not resigned. Instead, he has endured rumblings that he has lost support from the priests inside  his diocese, as well as parishioners. Nor has he been released from his duties by Pope Benedict XVI, who holds authority over the church's bishops.

Finn's Friday editorial was occasioned by the church's World Communications Day, in which the pope urged the faithful to reflect on how to find meaningfulness in communication both digital and analog. Finn's message started with his evocation of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalism, and closed by narrowing his eyes at the National Catholic Reporter.

"In light of the number of recent expressions of concern, I have a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name 'Catholic,'"  Finn wrote in his conclusion. "While I remain open to substantive and respectful discussion with the legitimate representatives of NCR, I find that my ability to influence the National Catholic Reporter toward fidelity to the church seems limited to the supernatural level. For this we pray: St. Francis de Sales, intercede for us."

[For the record, 1:35 p.m. Jan. 28: An earlier version of this post said the National Catholic Reporter was 59 years old. Actually, it’s 48 years old.]

matt.pearce@latimes.com

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