Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shepherd Indicted by Flock

While the title of this post may appear a bit confusing at first, its meaning will become plain quickly enough.  For it seems that a Grand Jury in Jackson County, Missouri (Kansas City), at the urging of the County Prosecutor, has handed down a misdemeanor indictment for Bishop Robert Flynn, as well as the Diocese of Kansas City - St Joseph, MO for failure to report suspected child abuse.  

It seems that Bishop Flynn failed to report the suspected child abuse activities of one of the priests in the diocese, Rev. Shawn Ratigan; who is now facing federal child pornography charges.  After apparently hundreds of images of this child pornography were found on the good Father's computer, the Bishop had Father Ratigan reassigned away from parish duties that might bring him into contact with children, but failed to report the situation to police for a period of some five months. The Bishop also apparently failed to read a memo submitted by the principal of the Catholic school where Father Ratigan worked in May of 2010, some seven months before the items were discovered on the computer and a year before authorities were informed.

The December 2010 time frame is coincidentally the time when I had previously written a piece on the Church's position on accepting responsibility for the actions committed by these priests, "Suffer The Little Children".  I wondered then whether someone in authority would be held accountable:

"If the Catholic Church were to be judged like any other multinational corporation, a good faith effort at atonement would require that they would terminate not only the offenders, but any of those in management (Monsignors, Bishops, and Cardinals) involved with the cover up of illegal activities at the very least."    

It appears that being held to that standard was not as long in coming as I would have suspected.  Of course Bishop Flynn and the Diocese are likewise named in a number of civil suits relating to this situation that will likely take years of legal wrangling to resolve.  The calls for Bishop's Flynn's resignation have likewise been surfacing regularly since May when Ratigan's situation first came to light, but the Bishop appears not to be giving serious consideration to accepting his own responsibility in this situation (other than to issue apologies), to be under no pressure from the Vatican to do so, and is in fact pursuing a full schedule of appearances.  The Holy See for its part, is remaining purposefully silent on the situation, claiming on the surface at least to be attempting to avoid the appearance of interference with the local legal proceedings.

Perhaps the Pope and the rest of the Church authorities fail to realize that it is this very silence that has stirred the righteous indignation of the faithful, both in Kansas City and elsewhere.  Even the most devout recognize that not only is it far past time that the Catholic Church stopped trying to cover for those who violate its most sacred trusts; but accept responsibility for what some might call being an accessory after (and in some case before) the fact for these criminal acts. 

Forgiveness is one of the core tenants of the Catholic faith; but such forgiveness is not achieved without making a Confession, following through with a true act of contrition, and the performance of a penance.  While certainly no one believes that those higher in the Church hierarchy 'committed' these sins, the Church has long recognized 'sins of omission' which those in authority certainly appear to be guilty of by their failures in protection of their flock and to turn over the perpetrators to the proper authorities.  The failure of those in the Church to protect those in its care that are most vulnerable is inexcusable. The apparent belief that those in authority need not share some of the guilt for the damage done when they fail not only to prevent this when they could, but to report it when they knew of it is unconscionable.  The idea that members of the clergy might be above the law because of their position is intolerable.

Until Church leaders too step forward, perform more than a simple 'mea culpa', and accept responsibility and penance for these detestable deeds, I'm afraid that this won't be the last time that what was once a loyal flock seeks to indict its shepherd.


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