Church-State New Crisis
Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn’s grand jury indictment was not announced until Friday; he’d been out of town, visiting the Vatican, doubtless receiving encouragement from the Curia. Jackson County (MO) prosecutor Jean Peters Baker may have feared the cleric would remain on the Tiber River cosseted by the Roman Catholic Church.
Monsignor Finn admitted he had not turned over to secular officials the case of the Rev. Shawn Rattigan for five months, despite evidence the priest had taken lewd pictures of girls, poking a camera under their dresses.
Everyone knew sexual assaults had been specifically banned by the church, still they went on. Austrian Hans Herman Cardinal Groer was forced to resign as Vienna’s archbishop on allegations he abused some 2,000 boys. In Ireland, clerics of both gender created a scandal by mistreating girls and boys in state institutions. It’s extremely difficult to find a Christian country where reports have not surfaced, not alone of attacks but cover-ups by superiors.
While Catholic prelates and spoke-persons delight in pointing out their religion is not the only church that protects sexual predators, no other Christian sect has a comparable history. Blind allegiance to the ordained ministers was highlighted by the price English King Henry II paid for four of his knights assassinating Thomas à Beckett. The biggest surrender of the secular to the church came at the Italian Canossa castle when Imperial Roman Emperor Henry IV waited three days barefoot in the snow and ice for forgiveness from Pope Gregory VII.
Six centuries later the 1787 Constitution sought to establish secular supremacy at the start of the Industrial Age when literacy no longer became the church’s monopoly.
In this country, the wholesale charges of abusing minors surfaced 20 years ago in Boston, a very Catholic city. Eventually Bernard Cardinal Law was demanded to retire. His retirement package from the Curia, headed by current Pope Benedict XVI, included an appointment to a famous Roman basilica that included his own palace with medieval frescoes on the wall. Over the 10 years since, the Catholic faithful have been forced to pay hundreds of millions to victims. The astonishing fact about Bishop Finn’s indictment rests in his very recent flagrant flouting of the law and church regulations. Nearly 11 months ago, the Reverend Rattigan was removed from his parish and assigned another where the latest allegations surfaced.
Reacting to their concern about the established Anglican Communion and ministers paid from the public purse, the writers of the Constitution proclaimed a secular nation; “under God” was added in 1954 when the country’s religious fervor had already passed. Attempts to legislate morality in the nation ultimately failed in the 1920s’ prohibition of alcohol and the more recent crusade against homosexuality. The same fate awaits the anti-abortion movement, despite political struttings in the 2012 presidential campaigns.
Prosecutor Baker may not be Catholic, certainly her county is not; unlike Boston, New York and Los Angeles where a number of cases against bishops developed. As his fellow American ordinaries, the KC bishop is accused — and admitted — he did not turn the sex criminal over to secular law officials.
Statistics published recently strike down the old-fashioned notion this is a Christian nation. Nearly half of Americans no longer go to houses of worship; Kansas City tops the national average: 49.3 percent against 48.3 percent. The western Missouri town counts 15 percent as Catholics versus 21.7 percent nationally. Further challenging the idea of a Christian nation, 2.5 percent of actively religious Americans do not swear fealty to Jesus.