Pope Francis accepts resignation of embattled Bishop Robert Finn - KCTV5

Pope Francis accepts resignation of embattled Bishop Robert Finn

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Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected priestly child abuser in the first known case of a pope sanctioning bishops for covering up for pedophiles. (AP, File) Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected priestly child abuser in the first known case of a pope sanctioning bishops for covering up for pedophiles. (AP, File)
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV/AP) -

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, the leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Roman Catholic Diocese who failed to report a pedophile priest.

Finn is the highest-ranking U.S. church official who has been convicted of a crime related to the church's sex abuse scandal.

The Vatican said Tuesday that Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office. It didn't provide a reason, but most believe that the pope forced Finn to resign.

Finn is 62, some 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75. He will remain a bishop, but no longer lead the diocese.

The diocese waited six months before notifying police about Father Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Finn faced harsh criticism for failing to take steps to ensure Ratigan didn't have any additional contact with children after Finn knew about the photos on Ratigan's laptop, which allowed Ratigan to continue to take advantage of young girls.

Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years' probation in 2012. In 2013, Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in a federal prison. Francis became pope in March 2013.

Ever since Ratigan's crimes came to light and his handling of the situation, Finn has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.

No U.S. bishop has been forcibly removed for covering up for guilty clergy. And technically speaking, Finn wasn't removed, he offered to resign, in the same way that Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law offered to resign in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in his archdiocese.

Law hadn't been convicted of a crime, as Finn was, and the failure of the Vatican to forcibly remove Finn for three years after he pleaded guilty fueled victims' complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the "zero tolerance" pledge of Francis.

But some say that the Vatican actually moved swiftly in this case.

"People say, 'Oh, it's been going on for so long,' but in Vatican terms they have their own time schedule and people at the Vatican will tell you they moved at light speed in this situation,' said Dennis Coday, the editor of the National Catholic Reporter.

In a statement, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online abuse resource BishopAccountability.org, said Finn's resignation was a welcome step but called on Francis to publicly state that he was removed for mismanaging the Ratigan case and failing to protect children.

She noted that bishops had been allowed to resign under the past two popes, but that the Vatican has never publicly linked their resignations to mishandling abuse cases.

"We urge Pope Francis to issue such a statement immediately. That would be unprecedented, and it would send a bracing message to bishops and religious superiors worldwide that a new era has begun," she said.

Finn, who apologized for Ratigan's abuse and took measures to make the diocese safe for children, remains the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.

Even Francis' top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, had said publicly last year that Francis needs to "urgently" address Finn's case, though he later stressed that Finn deserved due process and must be spared "crowd-based condemnations."

The Vatican last fall sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn's diocese as part of an investigation of his leadership. But until Tuesday, there had been no word about what the pope would do.

"It has been an honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith," Finn said in a statement issued by the diocese. "Please begin already to pray for whomever God may call to be the next Bishop of Kansas City - St. Joseph."

As a retired bishop, the diocese will remain responsible for Finn's expenses and retirement until he is reassigned. Because bishops don't usually step down at this age and under these circumstances, Finn's future with the church is murky.

Francis tapped Archbishop Joseph Naumann, of Kansas City, KS, to lead the diocese temporarily until a new bishop is named.

"I have been part of the Kansas City community for more than 11 years, so I have an awareness of the vitality and beauty of the Catholic community in northwest Missouri," Naumann said.

He prayed that the coming weeks and months will be "a time of grace and healing for the diocese."

Naumann explained that stewardship will "not be a time for innovation or change, but a time to sustain the ordinary and essential activities of the Church and where possible to advance the initiatives that already are under way."

The Vatican is expected to take their time to find the right person to lead the diocese after such a troubled period. The pope will have to decide whether to promote a priest already in the diocese or bring in a fresh face.

"They know they have to bring in the right person," Coday said. "They need to bring in someone that's going to be a very good listener and a healer."

Church membership had plunged under Finn's leadership and the ensuing controversies. But others supported Finn and his conservative style of leadership.

Parishioner Larry Larson said he was saddened by Finn's departure. He said that Finn was a "good bishop" who he believes "was unjustly prosecuted a little bit."

"It's a big tragedy for our church," Larson said. "It's a great suffering for all of us who love our church and you know we beg mercy upon him."

Others said Tuesday that Finn only agreed to the misdemeanor violation to settle the issue.

"In my opinion, he got some bad advice and he took the fall for it, which is his character," said John Destefano.

Maggie Clement said it was important to her to attend mass at noon Tuesday and pray.

"I just wanted to pray, come to mass and pray for our diocese and especially for Bishop Finn," Clement said. "Solidarity is so important. If we can just all gather to try and pray, it can be very beneficial for us."

Others hailed Finn's resignation. Abuse victims said it's a first step, and they hope that more people involved in covering up abuse by priests are forced out of the church.

Francis is facing similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his appointment due to his longtime affiliation with Chile's most notorious molester, the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Karadima's victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima's crimes in 2010. The Vatican has defended the appointment. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors. Earlier this month, members of the pope's sex abuse advisory commission came to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros and his suitability for office given he will be responsible for child protection programs.

Coday believes that Finn's forced resignation following a trip to the Vatican last week will send an important message to the church's bishops.

"If you're not following the rules and regulations that the church has set down for itself in the handling of the child abuse cases, then you're going to be in trouble," he said.

Finn's resignation does end the oversight by the Clay County Prosecutor's Office to review the diocese's handling of potential crimes involving children. Finn had agreed to the oversight to avoid facing criminal penalties in that county for the Ratigan case.

KCTV5's Heather Staggers, Jonathan Carter and Emily Rittman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and the Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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