VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of a U.S. bishop who pleaded guilty to failing to report a suspected child abuser, answering calls by victims to take action against bishops who cover up for pedophile priests.
The Vatican said Tuesday that Bishop Robert Finn had offered his resignation under the code of canon law that allows bishops to resign early for illness or some "grave" reason that makes them unfit for office. It didn't provide a reason; Finn is 62, some 13 years shy of the normal retirement age of 75.
Finn, who leads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri, waited six months before notifying police about the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, whose computer contained hundreds of lewd photos of young girls taken in and around churches where he worked. Ratigan was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.
Finn pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failure to report suspected abuse and was sentenced to two years' probation in 2012. Ever since, though, he has faced pressure from local Roman Catholics to step down, with some parishioners petitioning Francis to remove him from the diocese.
No U.S. bishop has been forcibly removed for covering up for guilty clergy. And technically speaking, Finn wasn't removed, he offered to resign, in the same way that Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law offered to resign in 2002 after the clergy sex abuse scandal exploded in his archdiocese.
Law hadn't been convicted of a crime, as Finn was, and the failure of the Vatican to forcibly remove Finn for three years after he pleaded guilty fueled victims' complaints that bishops were continuing to enjoy protections even under the "zero tolerance" pledge of Francis.
In a statement, Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online abuse resource BishopAccountability.org, said Finn's resignation was a welcome step but called on Francis to publicly state that he was removed for mismanaging the Ratigan case and failing to protect children.
She noted that bishops had been allowed to resign under the past two popes, but that the Vatican has never publicly linked their resignations to mishandling abuse cases.
"We urge Pope Francis to issue such a statement immediately. That would be unprecedented, and it would send a bracing message to bishops and religious superiors worldwide that a new era has begun," she said.
Finn, who apologized for Ratigan's abuse and took measures to make the diocese safe for children, remains the highest-ranking church official in the U.S. to be convicted of failing to take action in response to abuse allegations.
Even Francis' top sex abuse adviser, Cardinal Sean O'Malley, had said publicly last year that Francis needs to "urgently" address Finn's case, though he later stressed that Finn deserved due process and must be spared "crowd-based condemnations."
The Vatican last fall sent a Canadian archbishop to Finn's diocese as part of an investigation of his leadership. But until Tuesday, there had been no word about what the pope would do.
In a statement issued by the diocese, Finn said it had been an "honor and joy for me to serve here among so many good people of faith."
He asked for prayers for the next bishop.
Francis tapped Archbishop Joseph Naumman to lead the diocese temporarily until a new bishop is named. In a letter to the faithful, Nauman said he prayed "that the coming weeks and months will be a time of grace and healing for the diocese."
Francis is facing similar pressure to remove a Chilean bishop, Juan Barros, amid an unprecedented outcry over his appointment due to his longtime affiliation with Chile's most notorious molester, the Rev. Fernando Karadima.
Karadima's victims say Barros witnessed their abuse decades ago. He has denied knowing anything until he read news reports of Karadima's crimes in 2010. The Vatican has defended the appointment. Karadima was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.
Earlier this month, members of the pope's sex abuse advisory commission came to Rome in an unscheduled session to voice their concern about Barros and his suitability for office given he will be responsible for child protection programs.