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When I became Bishop of Lincoln in 2012, I undertook a systematic review of the safe-environment and child-protection policies and procedures governing the Church in southern Nebraska. To assist me, I asked our independent Review Board, a group of experts in criminal justice, psychology, and education, to recommend enhancements to our background checks and training programs.

The Diocese of Lincoln is fully compliant with the child protection laws of Nebraska, and the child protection policies of the Catholic Church. Last autumn, I announced that our diocese would begin undergoing annual independent audits of our compliance with child protection policies.

And this week, the Diocese of Lincoln will announce the appointment of a full-time safe environment coordinator to assist in child-protection education and coordination across southern Nebraska. Parents can be confident that the Diocese of Lincoln is committed to ensuring the safety of their children and families.

In December of 2015, I announced that Bishop Robert Finn, the former bishop of Kansas City, Missouri, would serve as the chaplain to a community of religious sisters, his long-time friends, in the Diocese of Lincoln. In 2012, Bishop Finn was convicted of a misdemeanor for failing to report a priest in possession of child pornography.

Because of serious acts of negligence under his leadership, Bishop Finn faced serious penalties. He faced a criminal court, and served the sentence he was given. He resigned his leadership position in the Church. He also accepted responsibility for his actions, and he has expressed sincere regret to those whom his negligence may have harmed.

Justice required serious consequences, and justice was served. There is a point, however, when demands for justice can become something much less worthy, and far less worthwhile.

I invited Bishop Finn to Lincoln because he desires to spend his retirement serving the Church. He does not have a position of authority, administration, or oversight. He has a purely religious role, in an appropriate adult setting, which he has undertaken in humility. He is not paid by the Diocese of Lincoln; his role of chaplain provides him only room and board. Bishop Finn has not ever been accused of sexual abuse of children. His ministry as chaplain does not represent an issue for anyone’s safety.

The anger of former abuse victims or their relatives is understandable. Their pain is real, and the Church has an on-going duty to help them heal. But those who have acknowledged and paid the penalty for past actions, who seek to serve in humility, and who pose no on-going danger to anyone, have a right not be harassed and disparaged once justice is served. To do otherwise is not justice; it is malice. And it is not worthy of our community.

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The critics of Bishop Finn have been invited to meet with the Diocese of Lincoln, and they have refused. That is their choice.

The life and ministry of Jesus remind me that justice and mercy are not opposed to each other. Bishop Finn, like all of us sinners, will be shown both.

The Church in Lincoln is committed to serving and protecting our people. We will do that without further punishing those who have already met the demands of justice.

Bishop James Conley is the ninth bishop of the Lincoln Diocese.


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