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Column: Archbishop addresses feedback from earlier column

Archbishop Naumann

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

Not surprisingly, I received quite of bit of feedback regarding my Oct. 21 column about the indictment of Bishop Finn for a misdemeanor by the Jackson County prosecutor.

Among some of the negative communications was one suggesting that any expressions of support for Bishop Finn would cause increased pain to victims. One of the leaders of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said that I should spend my energy seeking to identify and help more victims, rather than defending powerful individuals like Bishop Finn. Another critic of my Oct. 21 column found my defense of Bishop Finn disturbing because it made him wonder that, given the same circumstances, I would replicate the mistakes made in Kansas City, Mo.

It certainly was not my intent to increase the pain experienced by any victim of sexual abuse. On several occasions, I, as well as other officials of the archdiocese, have encouraged any person abused by someone representing the Catholic Church to contact our Victim Assistance coordinator, Dr. Dennis Schemmel at (913) 647-0312 or our Safe Environment coordinator, Father John Riley at (913) 647-0312. I assure you, you will be treated respectfully and your concerns taken seriously.

If you believe that you are a victim of criminal behavior by anyone representing the church, I encourage you to report the matter to the proper law enforcement official.

If you report to the archdiocese what appears to be the abuse of a minor, we will report the matter to law enforcement. If we err, it will be on the side of over-reporting to law enforcement.

Moreover, if it is helpful to anyone who has been sexually abused by a representative of the church, I am eager to meet with the victim. I want the archdiocese to do everything within our power to help those — who have been harmed by anyone representing the archdiocese, our parishes or ministries — to receive the appropriate assistance for healing. However, I must caution that assistance with healing should not be translated as payouts of huge cash settlements.

If an allegation is made against someone representing the church, our first priority will be to do what is prudently required to protect others from being harmed, and our second priority will be to ascertain the truth. In my limited experience in this area, most allegations have proven to be true. However, there have been a significant number of false accusations. Three of the more high profile false accusations were against: 1) the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago; 2) Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles; and, most recently, 3) Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh.

The church should be more concerned than victims’ advocates for identifying members of the clergy or other church personnel who have abused a minor.

The church has an obligation to do everything possible to protect innocent members of the church from harm. Moreover, for the health and vitality of the church, it needs to remove from ministerial leadership those who have violated the trust placed in them by abusing a child or a minor.

Similarly, victims’ advocates should be even more concerned than the church about repudiating those making false accusations. False accusations not only damage the reputation of those falsely accused, but they undercut the credibility of authentic victims.

In my Oct. 21 article, I acknowledged, as has Bishop Finn on numerous occasions, that mistakes were made by the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. My column was not in any way a denial of those errors. My concerns centered on the unfair portrayal of Bishop Finn in the media and questioned the legitimacy of the indictment. Acknowledging that mistakes in judgment were made, based on others’ advice and, in some cases, a failure to follow internal policies faithfully, is not the same as saying that what happened was criminal.

My concerns with The Kansas City Star’s treatment of Bishop Finn have increased because of its refusal to print a paid ad by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights that is critical of the paper’s reporting of these matters. According to the league, The Star refused the ad without explanation.

As far as I can determine from reports in the media, it also appears that Bishop Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph might be the only ones ever indicted in these circumstances who actually informed the police about the alleged perpetrator. Remember that the accused priest was not turned in to authorities by a victims’ group or by the media, but by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. The indictment against Bishop Finn and the diocese is not that they did not notify law enforcement, but they did not notify them promptly enough.

What is even more disturbing is that the prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, has featured on her election campaign website the indictment of Bishop Finn. It seems apparent that the prosecutor feels that her indictment of Bishop Finn is politically advantageous.

Why not? She knew that she would receive the praise and adulation of the local daily paper. Prosecutor Baker even received accolades from The New York Times. The Times editorial lauded the prosecutor not on the merits of the case against Bishop Finn, but because she had indicted a Catholic bishop. The New York Times felt it was about time a Catholic bishop was indicted, never mind if he is innocent or guilty of the specific charge.

I appreciate better now why the commentator Cal Thomas used to quip that he read the Bible and The New York Times every day just to see what both sides were doing.

Do not believe everything you read in the newspaper — unless, of course, it is in The Leaven. P.S. I was pleased to learn that the Clay County grand jury and prosecutor chose not to indict Bishop Finn. I hope this may motivate the Jackson County prosecutor to reconsider her actions.

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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