Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A matter of conscience

I guess this wouldn't be much of a deacon blog if I resolutely ignored developments concerning the permanent diaconate. Like many of us in this neck of the woods, I learned about the decision of one soon-to-be deacon for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Jim McConnell, to decline his bishops' "call to holy orders," a canonical document issued when candidates have completed their formation and been accepted for ordination, from intrepid newsman Deacon Greg's The Deacon's Bench.

As he stated it, McConnell's decision flowed from the behavior of the bishop to whom he was to vow respect and obedience, Bishop Robert Finn, in the appalling and now much publicized case of a priest, Shawn Ratigan [Priests who abuse, while they still participate to some extent in the sacrament of holy orders, are not called "Father" on these pages. After all, "Father" is a title that has to be earned. Being a term of endearment, it is not given automatically and it can certainly be revoked.], whose behavior under the current norms it seems to me should have merited suspension of his faculties, investigation, and canonical proceedings to laicize him. Under the circumstances McConnell felt he could not make that vow in good conscience. Max Lindeman, in an article over on Patheos, appropiately subtitled, Catching a Creep in the Circle of Grace, supplies some background.

As do all matters related to the seemingly endless malfeasance and even misfeasance on the part of some bishops and within some dioceses concerning matters of the sexual abuse of children and young people, Deacon Greg's post sparked a lively and heated discussion.

As is his wont, Deacon Bill Ditewig brings a well-formed and well-informed perspective to this matter over on his blog, Deacons Today: Dalmatics and Beyond.

As for my two cents, which I originally pitched in as a comment to the post on Deacons Today, I appreciate very much the charity and clarity Bill brings to this vexing situation. McConnell's decision strikes me as a matter of conscience, which must always be respected, even when we don't fully understand or when we may disagree with the conclusion reached. There is always more to say, even about a matter someone has painstakingly discerned for himself, but life requires us to make judgments and decisions that force us to account for both objective and subjective factors, thus making it the right the decision for me. I applaud his honesty and courage, even while I think how much the church needs clerics possessed of just this kind of integrity. God bless him and his wife as they continue to serve the church, which service by no means requires one to be ordained- heaven forbid!

Given the subject and the fact that I publicly blog as a permanent deacon, it is worth noting that the initial comprehensive John Jay study conducted on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was completed in 2006, The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States, related that-
The second question on the Cleric Survey sent to all dioceses for the Nature and Scope study asked: “At the time of the alleged offense(s), was the cleric a(n):” and then listed nine positions in Catholic ministry. This list included positions as Transitional Deacon and Permanent Deacon. There were 19 transitional deacons and 42 permanent deacons reported by their dioceses to have allegations of sexually abusing minors that were included in the Nature and Scope study. These 61 individuals represent less then one and one-half percent of all priests accused of sexual abuse of children (1.39%) whose data was included in the Nature and Scope study. The number of cases is so small that statistics are not useful to describe the relationships among them (Section 2.3 Deacons, pg. 22)


  1. For what it's worth, here is an article about it from the diocesan newspaper.


    This is a horrible situation, but it's hard to see how Finn could have done more at the time.
    Hindsight is certainly 20/20, but he did take steps to remove him from public ministry.

    Without a warrant, no one can simply walk in and take all of his things to look for evidence. Is that to be the new procedure now that the Bishops should be following?

    Bishop Finn did something that i haven't seen other Bishops do. He went out into the community to listen to the faithful.

    Another frustration that I have is the Vatican. They put the local Bishop in a bad situation.
    The Vatican claims jurisdiction over these cases, yet chastise the Bishops for not doing more when they've been told that they must strictly abide by the rules set up in Rome. You can't have it both ways.


  2. Thanks, Dan. I certainly want to be fair to Bishop Finn, especially given the seriousness of all this. However, I think given the gravity of such cases and the pain and anguish they cause, His Excellency could've troubled himself to read the memo and then to act. The current norms are crystal clear: any credible allegation merits suspension and investigation AND church officials are not exempt from mandatory reporting laws, plus they are to fully cooperate with law enforcement.

    From where I sit, which is not in a position of authority in such cases, I would say that if one is to err, let him err on the side of protecting children, even while jealously safeguarding the accused's presumption of innocence under both criminal and canon law.


A political non-rant

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