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Frustrated, Faithful, Furious: Kansas City Catholics React To Indictments Of Bishop And Diocese

Laura Ziegler

The Catholic church is still reeling from news that Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph have been indicted on criminal charges related to the sex abuse scandal.

Bishop Finn is alleged to have known that Father Shawn Ratigan had taken sexually explicit photographs of children for several months before reporting to police. The indictments also allege Ratigan was allowed to work with children after he was removed as pastor at St. Patrick's Parish.

The local Catholic community is just beginning to understand the impact of the case.

Kansas City's Catholics, like Catholics worldwide, are all too familiar with what's commonly called "the sex abuse scandal."

But it was something totally different when their own Bishop became the highest-ranking member of the Catholic hierarchy ever to be indicted on criminal charges.

On October 14, Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were indicted by a grand jury for failing to report a priest who had taken sexulally explicit photographs of children. Parishioner Laura Heinz said it was shocking and very personal.

"It's our family, children, it's our home, Bishop, faith and church, and I don't like seeing [the scandal] all over the news," Heinz said.

On a regular basis, Heinz and dozens of others kneel during midday mass beneath the magnificent stained glass windows at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Westport. Angela Camacho often brings her five young children. They're not the only large family in the pews as Monsignor William Blacet says the mass.

Of course she sympathized with victims of child abuse, Comacho said. But she doesn't believe the Bishop did anything wrong intentionally or maliciously. She worries others see it differently.

"I would like to hope and pray for perseverance for those people, but I know that [the indictments] will affect a lot, and a lot might make decisions I wouldn't necessarily make," Comacho said. "We might lose a few people and that's very sad."

The 98 parishes and missions in Bishop Finn's Kansas City-St Joseph Diocese cater to some 34,000 Catholics.

Families have lived here for generations. They know one another's parents, grandparents and cousins. Many home-school together.

The community, even families, are divided in their responses to the indictments. Parishioner Susie Evans said, "The Church isn't Bishop Finn. The Church is Jesus, and Bishop Finn has nothing to do with that."

Feisty and fiercely devout, the 78-year-old mother of five sees the charges as part of an endemic lack of accountability within the church. But it will not, she says, keep her from mass: "I enjoy going to mass. I go often. It's peaceful. Quiet. And it gives you something to think about. But it doesn't have anything to do with these people here. They're dishonest. They're morally corrupt."

But for Evans' daughter, Susannah, it's not that simple. She started to have questions about Catholicism as a Catholic school girl.

This latest scandal ,she said, confirms why she's drifted: "There's too much power and too much control that goes on. I find it bothersome, and I haven't been able to reconcile that the way my mom has."

75-year-old Kay Goodnow says she will probably never reconcile with the church. She'll probably never go to mass again either.

Molested by her priest as a teenager, she didn't tell a soul for some 45 years.

She struggled with alcoholism and had some psychiatric problems before she eventually came forward. In 2008 she was one of 48 victims to share a $10 million settlement with the church.

She was delighted when Bishop Finn and the Diocese were indicted.

"I kept thinking it's wonderful, wonderful. We waited so long for it to happen and it finally happened," Goodnow said.

Facebook pages and the blogosphere are dripping with both vitriol and adoration for the indicted Diocese and Bishop Finn, who has pleaded not-guilty to the charges, and has not spoken publicly about them. A spokesman for the Diocese said Bishop Finn's calendar, which includes commencement remarks at Rockhurst University and the occasional mass around town, has not changed.

Catholics in Kansas City said the indictments had not affected their relationship with God or the holy trinity, which are the bedrock of their faith. It's a faith, they said, that allows them to forgive and move on.

But it's been harder for some than for others.

Liz Miquelon and her husband Brad have not been back to the parish church, or their daughter's school, since they learned about the priest and his inappropriate photographs.

Ms. Miquelon cries regularly for her lost community, but she feels these times are testing her and her fellow believers.

"It doesn't make it okay just to go, 'We believe in our Catholic faith, we need to forgive.' The point is, what would Jesus do?" Miquelon asked. "He would want us to take action, so we never have to doubt, never have to ask 'Can I trust them?' We shouldn't have to question that."

Bishop Finn celebrates mass weekly at the gold-domed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown.

He faces a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Charges against the Diocese carry a maximum $5,000 fine.

Finn's next court appearance is scheduled for December 15th.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions. Email me at lauraz@kcur.org and follow me on Twitter @laurazig.
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