Opus Disruption in KC-St. Joe (The Catholic Right: Sixteenth in a Series)
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 02:36:09 PM EST
On May 24, 2005, just one month after becoming a member of Opus Dei, Robert Finn was installed as the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph.  A diocese that includes 130,000 Catholics residing in 27 countries of northwest Missouri, KC-St. Joe has long been known as a bastion of Catholic progressiveness.  It is as if he were sent there to turn back the clock.

Finn has turned out to be an advocate of unquestioning allegiance to Vatican hierarchy. Typical of many politically active Opus Dei members he falsely miscasts the value pluralist aspects so fundamental to American democracy society as "nihilism" and "moral relativism." More ominously, he sees his flock not as much as living as citizens in America democracy, but as part of  "a kingdom." Unfortunately, the archbishop does not seem to accept that most American Catholics believe that in this life democracy rules and that the kingdom is for the next.

Within a year of his installation, Archbishop Finn unceremoniously fired the diocese's chancellor, a layman of 21 years of service in the diocese, along with his vice chancellor, whom the National Catholic Reporter described as "...a religious woman stationed in the diocese for nearly 40 years and the chief of pastoral planning for the diocese since 1990." Both were replaced with a single priest chancellor.(i)

Finn's personal political views have also come to predominate various diocesan decisions and pronouncements. Biological issues now take precedence over long-standing concerns such as distributive justice. As  Dennis Coday reported in the National Catholic Reporter, A Respect Life Office was established to handle pro-life issues and battle stem-cell research.  The effect of this decision was immediately felt in the recent battle over the Missouri's Amendment 2 stem cell ballot initiative which narrowly prevailed on November 7, 2006.

In his march backwards he has elevated the role of The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. This society of priests celebrates Mass in Latin exclusively in its traditional as promulgated before the Vatican II aggiornomento reforms. The Institute has as its stated aim the defense and propagation of Magisterium in all areas of human life, both private and social. Such an attitude is a clear rebuke to Vatican II's reform doctrine as defined in Dignitatis Humanae which declared that while the Church still viewed itself as the vessel of "the truth," it wisely concluded that individuals must be free to seek the truth without coercion.

He is not tolerant of dissent and personally censors articles that appear in diocesan publications. To that end, he has ordered the editor of the diocesan newspaper to immediately cease publishing columns by the progressive Notre Dame theologian Fr. Richard McBrien.  He also announced that he would review all page one stories, opinion pieces, columns and editorials before publication. This behavior is consistent with Opus Dei's own internal practice of discouraging free thought through censorship. The lay group maintains a list of "forbidden" books, it does not want its members to read. It is a list that includes Enlightenment writers such as Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire.  

Such policy is indicative of a distrust of reason. And nowhere is this played out in archbishop's universe than in the ongoing debate between the Jesuits and Opus Dei.

As I pointed out in the last installment of this series, the Jesuits generally believe that faith and reason can be reconciled. They are also more tolerant of dissent. Such attitudes are the antithesis of many on the Catholic Right. Dennis Coday noted in his NCR piece, "the diocesan-sponsored master's program, administered for eight years by the Aquinas Institute of Theology, a Dominican school affiliated with Jesuit-run St. Louis University, was transferred to the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Florida-based Ave Maria University. Ave Maria is being developed by former Domino's Pizza magnate, Thomas Monaghan who has funded a host of conservative Catholic efforts." (ii)

Right in the middle of the American Heartland reigns a leader of the Catholic Church who fears reasoned dissent. This fear of new ideas, and of difference, discussion and debate, speaks volumes of his disdain for liberal democracy as it has been practiced here for over two hundred and thirty years.

As a May 12, 2006 NCR editorial duly noted

"Such things cannot be exercised by fiat; people can't be made to become a faithful community by controlling them. The qualities of true leadership and authority accrue to those who have a deep empathy for the people they serve; who understand in profoundly human ways their hopes and aspirations as a people of God; who place compassion above the need to dominate; and who understand that relationships, not rules or rubrics or even revered devotions, are the essential thread of the fabric of a community living out the Gospel."

As with so much of its reporting on this disruptive prince of the Church, NCR has hit the nail squarely on the head.

But whether it is fighting embryonic stem cell research in a pluralistic society or taking on dissenting Catholics or Jesuits who can reconcile faith and reason Archbishop Finn's real enemy is modernity. And for Finn and those of similar thought modernity is synonymous with Liberalism--the very concept they disproportionately blame for alienation, excess commercialism and apostasy. It is an argument that has been made by royalist reactionaries since Joseph DeMaistre. In many ways it is a scream of protest against a changing world.

But the archbishop's scream is misplaced. It is only directed at those who understand that change inevitable, but wish to make it more humane. Unfortunately, the Archbishop Robert Finns of the word choose to ignore the truer agents of societal decay and apostasy--an increasingly orthodox faith that becomes more elitist, harsh and out of touch. And why? Simply because that leadership would rather consult with the likes of wealthy men such as Tom Monaghan and William Simon Jr. instead of people who might be their employees.

It is elitism at its worst.  Beyond that, it is religious philosophy that seems quite out of step with its Founder's intentions. After all, didn't He make those on the margins the focus of His ministry?

(i)  May 12, 2006, "Extreme makeover: the diocese"
(ii) Ibid.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank Cocozzelli :  Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo

KH--You're our witness on the scene in KC-St. Joe. Give us us your first-hand experiences and observations!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 02:39:17 PM EST


What I know about Finn is what I've read in NCR (I am a subscriber.) Thank God I don't live in his diocese, or Raymond Burke's (St. Louis) or Fabian Bruskewitz's (Lincoln, NE.) I live near Dayton, OH, which is in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Our own archbishop, Daniel Pilarczyk, is rather understated, although said to be a good Latin scholar and privately very witty. Pilarczyk is a Dayton native and isn't inclined to make waves, although he achieved some notoriety a few years ago when he pled guilty in a Cincinnati courtroom on behalf of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese admitted to failing to report sexual offenders in the priesthood. Our associate pastor was one of the offenders pulled about 3 years ago for misconduct that occurred when he was principal of a Catholic boys' high school in Cincinnati.

Finn seems to me to be the wave of the future in the Church, which is rather scary to me as a progressive Catholic. There was a comment in a recent NCR letter to the editor to the effect that the Church is "on the move" but that the direction appears to be irrelevant. I concur

by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 06:09:39 PM EST

I don't know much about the KCMO bishop, but the St. Louis archbishop, Burke, is generally not liked by the laity. His moves to dictate layfolk voting in 2004 and 2006 have alienated many, as has his opacity over the local priest-abuse scandals. The best "you've GOT to be kidding" Burke utterances involved the dangers of letting children read the Harry Potter books - a sure sign that he has spent way more time in the Curia than is good for any human being.

by NancyP on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 08:10:30 PM EST
Bishop Burke has been on my radar screen for a while. I have been aware of his pronouncements both as progressive Catholic and as a stem cell activist. In fact, I have many friends in St. Louis who were very much involved with Amendment 2. Through them I know full well  about the disruption he causes, much like his compadre to his west.

I will be doing a piece on Burke in the coming weeks, so look for it.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 08:18:54 PM EST

My father and I were singularly unimpressed by the ham-handed fashion in which Burke handled the St. Stanislaus Kostka parish controversy. St. Stan's is one of the few American parishes still governed by a lay board of trustees. Burke got involved in a dispute with the trustees as they had a sizable sum of money (something which I think the Archdiocese wanted very badly because of pending sexual abuse claims.) Burke went to the Vatican and got an order turning over the church property and bank account to the Archdiocese. The trustees balked, Burke placed them under an interdict, later excommunicated the members of the lay board, and suppressed the parish. Needless to say, Burke isn't one of my favorite members of the hierarchy, and I must admit that I don't have much respect for the hierarchy as a body.

by khughes1963 on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 09:07:17 PM EST
Yep, Burke really stepped in it there - as judged by the number of "I support St. Stan's" bumper stickers out there in STL. And the number of people I run into that have double parish affiliations, their own and St. Stan's. I think the affaire de St. Stan's  is probably the #1 cause of Burke being laughed at by local communicating Catholics.

Depressing to think of Aquinas Inst. Theology being taken over by the Opus folk. I pass it every day on my way to work at the St. Louis U medical campus.

by NancyP on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 07:52:38 PM EST

If we stick to our guns, we'll take back Aquinas Inst, of Theology! They may have the money, but we have the numbers as well as justice!

And you too Nancy, enjoy your Thanksgiving.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 08:23:14 PM EST

I don't think this is the kind of activity Jesus had in mind. Men like Finn, McCloskey and Burke act more like the Pharisees the He used to attack than as humble followers.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving Kathy.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 07:18:14 AM EST

You have a Happy Thanksgiving too, Frank!

by khughes1963 on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 11:56:30 AM EST

Sorry about the geographical error. I had you pegged for being from KC. And while I agree with so much of what you believe, there is one point of contention between us: it is not reactionaries such Archbishop Finn who are "the wave of the future," it is folks like you and me who want to resume aggiornomento.

That is, of course, if we have the courage not to quit.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:41:57 PM EST


I'm with you on not quitting-look at what happened on Election Day.


by khughes1963 on Sun Nov 19, 2006 at 07:45:24 PM EST

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