By A. G. Sulzberger (New York Times)
October 16, 2011
Days before, news had broken that Bishop Robert Finn and the diocese had been indicted on criminal charges for failing to report a priest found to have pornographic photos of children, including children of his congregants. The priest is accused of having taken more such photographs in the months before church leaders turned them over to law enforcement.
Father Hoye, after reaching out to priests in neighboring parishes — all of whom expressed the same uncertainty — decided not to address the matter directly from the pulpit but to offer a homily on man and God that emphasized forgiveness.
"Most people are savvy enough to understand what I'm saying without having to actually say it," he explained between morning services at St. Patrick's. "It's a polarizing subject and not everyone is in the same place."
The announcement on Friday that Bishop Finn, of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, had become the highest ranking member of the clergy to be charged with a crime stemming from the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the church has caused disappointment and anger in the Catholic community here.
Nowhere is that more true than at St. Patrick's, where the former pastor, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, was once well-regarded for his easy manner, fondness for children and the camera that he always brought to events at the church and the parish elementary school.
As parishioners streamed into the brightly lighted sanctuary for morning Mass — elderly couples and young families, a diverse group that included white, black, Asian and Hispanic — they mostly avoided mention of the latest development in what has been a long, painful story.
They were here to worship God, several said, not to lament the failings of the humans who served him, and as far as they were concerned this Sunday was like any other. Father Hoye said not a single parishioner had brought up the subject with him.
But after the readings and the hymns, the silent prayers and the words of wisdom from Father Hoye, some privately expressed their dismay at the church leadership.
"Obviously we're not O.K. with this and we don't like the way it was handled," said Jason Krysl, standing with his wife, a teacher at a Catholic school, who was holding their 7-month-old son. "But it's frustrating because there's not much you can do about it. It's not like you can vote for bishop."
Maggie Nurrenbern, a high school Spanish teacher, said the indictment was a step in the right direction. "Nobody is above the law," she said. "The bishop should go to jail, I absolutely believe that. He was covering this up for months and the priest kept abusing girls in the meantime."
And Bill Marcotte, who is retired and serves as an usher, said he was disappointed. But, he added, "If you're a good Catholic you've got to forgive him."
Not long ago, Bishop Finn stood in this church asking for forgiveness. Much of the anguish, then and now, concerned the decision not to inform law enforcement — or the parents here — about Father Ratigan even after the school principal had written a letter detailing concerns that the priest's behavior fit the profile of a child predator, even after church officials in December discovered hundreds of photographs on his computer that included nude pictures and "upskirt images" of girls, and even after he attempted suicide.
Instead Father Ratigan was sent to live in a convent and told to avoid contact with minors. But he continued to attend children's parties, spend weekends in the homes of parish families and, with the bishop's permission, presided at a girl's first communion, according to interviews and court documents. Despite a pledge by the diocese to immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement, Father Ratigan was not reported until May. The congregants here, who had been told that Father Ratigan had left after an illness, were shocked when he was arrested and charged with child pornography.
Bishop Finn, a staunch theological conservative who faced calls for his resignation even before the indictment, has pleaded not guilty and has promised to fight the charge, a misdemeanor that carries a possible sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. He declined a request for an interview. In an evening service at the gold-domed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Bishop Finn urged worshipers to keep the diocese together and to avoid discouragement. He made oblique reference to "the events unfolding last Friday."
"There is not so much that I can say, I know you understand that," he said. "But it is enough to be here with you, whom I love."
He ended by offering a prayer "to keep us together and on a straight and sure path."
Not everyone made the trip to St. Patrick's on Sunday. At breakfast, Liz Miquelon and her husband, Brad, asked each other the same question they've asked since the scandal broke months ago: would today be the day they returned to church? They had not attended since they pulled their daughter from St. Patrick's School, terrified that she might be among the unidentified children in the photos.
And again the answer was no, with concern for their 5-year-old daughter's safety overriding fears that Ms. Miquelon was disconnecting from her religion. But Ms. Miquelon, a lifelong Catholic who says she has lost faith in church leaders but not God, tearfully expressed the hope, still tentative, that the criminal charges might usher in the changes needed for her eventual return.
"I want this to be a revolutionary change in the Catholic Church, so that no one will ever not report again," she said.
Had she gone, she would have heard Father Hoye quote from the Book of Matthew: "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — and to God what belongs to God." She would have heard him talk of human frailty and of forgiveness; of coming together as a community for worship.
Only once she would have heard the name of Bishop Finn, during a prayer for unity.
And then, at the end of the service, she would have heard Father Hoye express an impossible hope: "As your pastor, I wish I could make this all go away."