Are we now witnessing the beginning of a development towards mounting persecution mania – not only (with some justification) against those Catholic bishops who have, in one way or another, conducted sustained operations to shield abusive priests from justice, thus allowing their abuse to continue (as revealed by the Cloyne report) – but also against any bishop who has failed to act decisively enough in some isolated case, through simply failing (as anyone might in his position – I include myself) to spot its seriousness? And does this persecution mania extend also to any priest who defends the bishop in question, who then himself becomes the object of the same hysterical persecution?
I am, of course, referring to a particular case, that of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas, Missouri, who was recently defended by Father Z, a regular columnist in this newspaper, against an egregious slur by one Phyllis Zagano in the National Catholic Reporter. Fr Z is now (he thinks as a consequence) being threatened by this same Zagano, who he has been told is currently phoning around trying to get something on him.
This is the opening of Zagano’s attack on Bishop Finn (whom she then goes on to excoriate at length – referring to him throughout with calculated disrespect simply as “Finn”, as though he were a convicted criminal – for being excessively traditionalist, in favour of celibacy, against women priests and the like):
Who are these guys and where did they come from?
Testosterone is in the news again from coast to coast. The new reality TV follows the misadventures of over-sexed men, their victims, and their defenders. It looks like a cartoon about a dysfunctional high school.
Reading from the left, in California Arnold Schwarzenegger (football coach), gets a housekeeper pregnant and lies about it for 15 years or so while his wife raises their son, born a few days earlier.
In the Mid West, Kansas City-St Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn (chaplain) earnestly defends not reading a year-old, four-and-a-half-page Catholic school principal’s memo detailing weird behavior by one of his priests, even after finding pornography on the priest’s computer.
In the nation’s capitol, Congressman Anthony D Weiner (assistant principal) weepingly admits he is so enamored of his physical endowments that he Tweets photographs of them to total strangers.
And, in New York, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Mahmoud Abdel-Salam Omar (language department) strenuously defend against sex abuse claims by hotel maids.
As we watch the stories unfold, we are left sitting in the school cafeteria wondering how these stereotypes got in charge in the first place.
This was answered very adequately by Louie Verrecchio on the Catholic News Agency website who established that Zagano’s accusation that Bishop Finn ignored a report on a priest’s unhealthy apparent attraction to schoolchildren, even after pornography had been found on his website, was a gross distortion. The bishop’s failure, reported Verrechio, was that: “As he has publicly and with great humility maintained, he failed to act as decisively as he could have… Hindsight recently made this clear when the priest was eventually discovered to be in possession of child pornography at which point he was promptly arrested.”
One case of indecisiveness; and the bishop is accused by Zagano of being driven by testosterone, of being “over-sexed”. As they say in America, “Pardon me?”
But this isn’t a defence of Bishop Finn: others have done that better and more bitingly than I could, including Fr Z, who quoted the passage with which I began this piece, and responded thus:
This is disgusting and unworthy even of the Fishwrap [this is Fr Z’s amusing name for the National Catholic Reporter; he features a photo of a copy of the NCR wrapped around a raw fish]. Schwarzenegger, Wiener, Strauss-Kahn, Omar and Finn?
National Catholic Fishwrap owes Bishop Robert Finn an apology for this insult.
The rest of her column, obviously condoned by the editors, is also an insulting personal attack.
They should not run Zagano’s stuff and nonsense again until she apologises for drawing a moral equivalence between Bishop Finn and those other three figures.
Stuff and nonsense is one thing, and in stuff and nonsense Zagano’s and NCFishwrap‘s columns will surely abound. We can differ and even bicker about stuff and nonsense.
This was a vile smear.
As I say, I write this morning less to draw attention to the case of Zagano’s vile smear (Fr Z is of course right) against Bishop Finn than to its apparent sequel: well, it is at least post hoc, and it may well, as Fr Z thinks, be propter hoc. Here’s Fr Z again:
Zagano didn’t like my call for an apology to her yellow smear of Bp. Finn. So now it is my turn. It’s payback. She is going to write a piece to smear me, because I called her on her smear of Bp. Finn. …
“But Father! But Father!”, you are now asking. “What dirt is Phyllis digging for?”
She has been calling everyone under the sun asking mainly, it seems, about my canonical status. Am I really a priest? Am I in good standing? Why do I live where I live?
She has been threatening in her phone calls to people I know that she is going to write about me.
For why she would do that, see Fr Z in the same post; I haven’t the space for it, but it’s well worth reading in full. Zagano is obviously hoping to demonstrate that because Fr Z doesn’t live in the Italian diocese where he was ordained (he’s in the US, completing a PhD as well as writing and preaching when asked) there must be something fishy about him. As I say, have a look at Fr Z’s response: if I were Phyllis Zagano or the editor of the NCR, I would draw back before I found that I had bitten off a lot more than I could chew – rather as the Tablet found when it tried to discredit Fr Finigan (a somewhat reminiscent case).
Bishop Finn is in no position to defend himself. But Fr Z is, and he will.
Watch this (and Fr Z’s) space.