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The campaign to discredit Bishop Finn is not going to stop

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 30, 2013

Bishop snared in abuse scandal criticizes Catholic newspaper

That was the headline for a Los Angeles Times story on Bishop Robert Finn’s statement that the National Catholic Reporter does not deserve to be described as a “Catholic” publication.

The gist of the story, as the Times reports it, is that the bishop “wishes the independent National Catholic Reporter weren't so independent." Nowhere does the story mention the crux of the matter. Under the canon law that governs the Catholic Church, an institution cannot identify itself as “Catholic” without the permission of the local bishop. The Reporter does not have that permission; quite the contrary. Bishop Finn, as he explained in his own diocesan newspaper, has “a responsibility as the local bishop to instruct the Faithful about the problematic nature of this media source which bears the name ‘Catholic.’” Thus his warning about the Reporter. If you read only the article in the Los Angeles Times, you learned nothing about this side of the story.

But enough about what the Times did not say. Let’s take a closer look at what the newspaper did say, beginning with that headline. Bishop Finn’s involvement in the abuse scandal was completely irrelevant to this story. But by mentioning it in the headline, and then again near the top of the article, the Times might have given some readers the impression that the bishop had denounced the Reporter to gain his revenge, since the Reporter had called for his resignation, or to silence a paper which has aggressively explored the clerical sex-abuse scandal. In fact, as he explained in his column, Bishop Finn was taking issue with the Reporter’s handling of entirely different issues, including women’s ordination, contraception, and theological dissent in general.

Bishop Finn was not “snared” on abuse charges himself; he was convicted on a misdemeanor charge for failing to report evidence of abuse by a priest in his diocese. So the wording of the headline in the LA Times is harsh. But it is not inaccurate. Bishop Finn has undoubtedly been caught up in the snares of the sex-abuse scandal. And therein lies the problem.

Having been found guilty in a court of law, and then having accepted the court’s verdict, Bishop Finn is now permanently handicapped as a teacher of the Catholic faith. The Los Angeles Times is not the first newspaper that has chosen to focus attention on his criminal conviction, nor will it be the last. Whenever he makes a public statement on a controversial issue, critics will be sure to remind us of the bishop’s troubles with the law, whether or not they are relevant to the issue at hand.

It may be unfair that Bishop Finn is now singled out as a convicted criminal, when so many other American bishops were guilty of the same offenses, and much worse, in the past. It may be unfair that the Los Angeles Times trains its editorial guns on the Bishop of Kansas City, when there is larger target at close range in Los Angeles. It may be unfair, but those are the facts. When an orthodox Catholic bishop makes a strong defense of the Catholic stand on contentious issues, the critics of Catholicism will fight back, and Bishop Finn is now vulnerable.

As much as I admire his stalwart leadership of the Kansas City diocese, I question whether Bishop Finn can act effectively as a teacher of the faith when his critics have such a handy means of impeaching his testimony. I question whether he can prosper as the leader of the Catholic community, in an increasingly hostile environment, while wearing a bulls-eye on his back.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: impossible - Feb. 10, 2013 10:57 AM ET USA

    Why are you playing into the hands of the liberals who obviously approve of your short-sighted piling on.

  • Posted by: geoffreysmith1 - Feb. 02, 2013 7:17 AM ET USA

    So Bishop Finn is not impeccable? Well, well, you do surprise me! Even the Pope is said to go to confession at least once a month, so I expect Bishop Finn has long ago repented of his "crime". Leave the man alone now to get on with his important job of leading the diocese of Kansas City. A few short years from now, the LA Times will have gone the same way as the NY Times and the Boston Globe - into bankruptcy and oblivion, killed off by the Internet. The paper's vendetta will be history.

  • Posted by: [email protected] - Feb. 01, 2013 8:41 PM ET USA

    Bishop Finn was snared.It might be better for a transfer and appointment of another orthodox bishop. But first we should rally round him and support him fully. We must remember the agenda of the left is to destroy the Catholic Church. Why do you think there is a war on the 1st Amendment and the 2nd. We should not give in so easily.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Feb. 01, 2013 8:39 PM ET USA

    As members of Christ's mystical body, branches in his vineyard and brothers in his love this is tremendously painful and ought to move us, eliciting responses that cannot be devoid of passion. The Church cannot continue to endure the likes of Weakland, Law and Mahoney et al without irreparable harm. Bishop Finn is a humble servant of the Church and her members. He's a good man who understands what this means. These cases are "brutal" as one hurt prelate recently put it. There are no winners.

  • Posted by: FredC - Feb. 01, 2013 8:33 PM ET USA

    Shall we retroactively have St. Peter resign? Do we allow only impeccable people be bishops and priests? Do we let public opinion dictate who will lead the Church? Do we let the secular press dictate who will lead the Church -- the same press that selects which politicians should and which should not be kept in office after a moral offense? We Catholics need to accept Bishop Finn's repentance, even if the LA Times continues its unrelenting attack on the Church's leaders.

  • Posted by: lfjardine9175 - Jan. 31, 2013 7:31 PM ET USA

    I am saddened to see you joining in a pile-up on this great orthodox bishop. Perhaps supporting him in his ministry and teachings, showing the unity of the faithful would speak more clearly to those opposed to the Church

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jan. 31, 2013 4:26 PM ET USA

    Most bishops in the US have a problem like Finn's. The question must be, then, just how great is the problem. We can't drum every leader out of the Church in America, so let's draw a line and ask everyone of the bishops to the wrong side of it to resign (we could call it the Finn Line: one misstep but nothing more). As Phil Lawler points out here, these bishops lack credibility because of their actions or lack of same. For the good of the Church, they need to step aside. Now.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Jan. 31, 2013 4:09 PM ET USA

    Should the L.A. Times be able to influence the future of Bishop Flynn? Does the hostility of the L.A. Times to him result from his admitted ‘cover-up’ in a single case or is it due to his orthodox and traditional understanding of Catholic Doctrine as implied by the commentary? Obviously any cover-up charge involving children is a serious matter. Is it serious enough to remove him from his position? Surely only this is important, not a political press campaign.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jan. 31, 2013 7:21 AM ET USA

    This is a legitimate concern. The abuse of children is hardly a difficult matter to figure out. But if this line of thinking is extended, there is a concern all the way to the top. Executives bear enormous responsibility. "It may be unfair, but those are the facts." There is a great deal of truth to these words. Bishop Finn might have been mortally wounded by his misdemeanor. Patience, courage and prudence are indicated in the process of evaluating the performance of prelates.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Jan. 31, 2013 1:25 AM ET USA

    There is a very simple solution to this matter. Every other bishop in America should say the same self-evident truth and more. The National Catholic Reporter is not only not a Catholic publication, it is a journal of ignorant, pro-abortion, blatant anti-Catholic bigotry.

  • Posted by: bnewman - Jan. 30, 2013 5:23 PM ET USA

    I am not sure about this point of view. If the Bishop held some purely political position I would agree. But there is more at stake here than politics: he holds a spiritual authority.So he made a single mistake at a time when most were making many more serious mistakes.Even if he had not, the L. A. Times would still have attacked him.If necessary they would have invented something to blacken his name as happened to Pope Benedict. Perhaps a little loyalty is required here.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Jan. 30, 2013 4:08 PM ET USA

    Sad, but true. Perhaps Bishop Finn could be much more effective by taking an obscure parish, using his prayers and mortifications to obtain divine favors for us all. Remember how St. Jerome became the great translator of the Vulgate, by making a hash of things in Rome.