The only U.S. bishop ever convicted of shielding a pedophile priest is now under investigation by the Vatican.
The leadership of Bishop Robert W. Finn, who heads the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in northern and western Missouri, is being reviewed by a Canadian archbishop, Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, at the request of Pope Francis.
Finn was convicted in 2012 of a misdemeanor for failure to report to law enforcement that a priest had taken pornographic pictures of young girls. He was sentenced to two years of probation, and, earlier this year, his diocese was fined $1.1 million after an arbitrator determined that the failure to report the priest had violated terms of an earlier settlement with abuse victims.
The Vatican investigation, formally called an apostolic visitation, was first reported by the National Catholic Reporter, and was confirmed by a spokesman for Finn.
“Bishop Finn was notified of the process in advance by the apostolic nuncio,” said the spokesman, Jack Smith. The apostolic nuncio is the pope’s representative to the United States.
“He cooperated with the process, and was obligated by the terms of the visitation not to speak of it to anyone,” Smith said, adding, “I don’t know where it goes from here, and it’s hard to comment further because it’s supposed to be a secret process.”
A spokeswoman for the investigator, Prendergast, said only, “The archbishop considers it a private visit, so we have no comment.” The Vatican declined to comment, according to a spokesman, the Rev. Thomas Rosica.
Multiple priests have been defrocked, and some have been convicted, for abuse-related crimes, and some bishops have resigned over their own sexual misconduct. But few bishops have been held accountable for failing to remove abusive priests from ministry, to the consternation of victim advocates.
Francis has signaled that he expects to change the church’s approach to disciplining bishops, telling reporters in May, “Right now three bishops are under investigation,” and adding, “There is no special treatment.”
In recent days, the Vatican has disciplined two bishops. Last week, Francis ousted a bishop in Paraguay, Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano of the diocese of Ciudad del Este. The Vatican cited “pastoral concerns” as the reason for the ouster; among the criticisms of Livieres was an accusation that he had protected a priest accused of molesting seminarians.