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Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn Under Vatican Investigation

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A Canadian archbishop visited the Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., diocese last week on behalf of the Vatican to investigate the leadership of Bishop Robert Finn, the first Catholic prelate to be found criminally guilty of shielding a priest in the ongoing clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Ottawa, Ontario, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast visited the Midwestern diocese for several days last week, interviewing more than a dozen people about Finn's leadership, several of those interviewed told the National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

According to those who spoke with Prendergast, the main question he asked was: "Do you think (Finn) is fit to be a leader?"

The communications officer for the Ottawa archdiocese, Sarah Du Broy, said the archdiocese did not a have comment as "the Archbishop considers it a private visit."

Jack Smith, director of the Kansas City diocese's communications office, originally told NCR that no one in the diocese had heard of Prendergast's visit. Smith then wrote in an email to NCR later Monday that Finn had been aware that Prendergast was in Kansas City.

"He cooperated with the process and was obligated by the terms of the visitation not to speak of it to anyone, including his senior staff and communications director," Smith wrote.

Smith said Finn is currently in Rome for deacon ordinations of several of the diocese's seminarians studying at the Pontifical North American College.

Prendergast, according to those who spoke to him, said he was visiting the diocese on behalf of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, which makes recommendations to the pope on the appointment of bishops around the world.

Finn, who has led the Kansas City diocese since 2005, has come under sustained criticism in the diocese, especially following his conviction in September 2012 of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of a now-former diocesan priest who was producing child pornography.

An investigation of a diocese by another bishop, known formally as a visitation, normally occurs when the pope or one of the Vatican's congregations have concerns about the leadership of the diocese.

A former chancellor of the Kansas City diocese also confirmed to NCR on Monday the ongoing investigation, saying he had helped in an effort to have a Vatican review of Finn's leadership.

Jude Huntz, who served as the diocese's second-in-command from 2011 until last month, said he had given advice to several Kansas City-area Catholics who wanted to write to the Vatican's apostolic nuncio in Washington expressing concerns about Finn.

"I hope that there is a leadership change in the diocese of Kansas City St-Joseph," said Huntz, who now serves as the director of the Chicago archdiocese's Office for Peace and Justice. "And that's been my hope for quite some time."

Three people who said they spoke to Prendergast as part of the investigation independently confirmed details of the archbishop's visit but asked to remain anonymous because they had been told not to divulge details of their interviews.

Finn and his diocese have been under scrutiny for several years, particularly surrounding the handling of sexual misconduct by Shawn Ratigan, a former priest who was found guilty in federal court in September 2013 of producing child pornography and sentenced to 50 years in jail. Ratigan was laicized in January.

In September 2012, Finn was found guilty in one Missouri county court of the misdemeanor count. Earlier, in November 2011, he made an agreement with prosecutors in another county to suspend misdemeanor charges as long as he agreed to give prosecutors there immediate oversight of the diocese's sexual abuse reporting procedures.

The Kansas City diocese has also been facing a number of lawsuits for sexual abuse claims and has made a number of large financial settlements in recent years. In 2012, the diocesan paper estimated the diocese had spent $1.39 million for the bishops' legal defense and almost $4 million for other claims.

The cumulative amount spent by the diocese on sexual abuse claims and defense is a "staggering figure," Huntz said. "[The Vatican] needs to see those numbers and recognize it for what it is."

Huntz also said that to offset expenses, the diocese had raised parish assessments, the money the diocese collects from parishes, with some "going up 33 percent." Huntz attributed higher operating costs to increased insurance payments.

"A parish can't afford those things," he said. "It's really hurting a lot of the parishes from a financial point of view."

Likewise, the number of Catholics in Kansas City has declined, Huntz said.

"Ten years ago ... when Bishop Finn came to Kansas City, the diocese had 165,000 Catholics," he said. "This past year, I submitted our official statistics to Rome, and we only had 128,000 Catholics. That's a 25 percent decline."

Joshua McElwee is NCR's Vatican correspondent. Read his full story on the NCR web site.

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