DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - On Thursday, online news site Deadline Detroit revealed that Detroit Abp. Allen Vigneron allowed a nun to remain on staff at Sacred Heart Seminary (SHS), aware she was an admitted lesbian predator.
A fixture at SHS since 1969, Sr. Mary Finn of the Home Visitors of Mary (HVM) was known throughout the archdiocese for her focus on social justice. During her career, she organized countless retreats and seminars for priests, religious, deacons, seminarians and parishes. She also homosexually assaulted at least two novices in her care.
The abuse began at a vacation house outside Detroit, where Finn often took Theresa Camden and another, unnamed victim for "weekend retreats."
"We would often lie close to her," Camden told Deadline Detroit. "I remember her telling us we had a deep and wholesome spiritual relationship."
In 1972, three years into their vocation, both novices were suddenly dismissed from HVM without explanation. According to Camden, in 1977, the anonymous victim revealed she had been involved sexually with Finn during their novitiate.
"Both women sought therapy and spent years seeking to understand what happened to them," Deadline Detroit reported. "Finally, in the 1990s, the head of the Home Visitors of Mary paid the other former novice $20,000 in an apparent effort to buy her silence regarding Finn."
Friend Susan Shreve accompanied the unnamed victim twice to the chancery to warn officials about Sr. Finn. The archdiocese, she recalled, did not respond to their concerns. Later, Shreve and Camden went with her to the HVM convent; shortly after, superior Sr. Barbara Dakoske offered the woman $20,000.
"But we had never asked for any money," Camden explained. "We just wanted Finn to be held accountable. We were concerned about her exposure to other young people."
It was "the least we could do," Sr. Dakoske told Deadline Detroit, indicating the sum was to compensate for therapy. When Dakoske was pressed on the offer of money — specifically, whether "the payment was because of the novice's relationship with Finn" — she downplayed the lesbian assault, saying the novice "was an adult; she wasn't a minor" when the abuse occurred.
Catching herself, Dakoske refused to answer further questions. "I've probably already said more than I should have," she said.
Preempting Deadline Detroit's exposé, Sr. Finn resigned Wednesday as assistant professor of theology and director of supervised ministry/integrated studies at SHS. In stepping down, she issued a carefully worded confession regarding the abuse:
More than 50 years ago, I misused my position of authority as a director of novices in the Home Visitors of Mary (HVM) Order, engaging in inappropriate conduct with two adult novices. I regret that behavior, have repented of my actions, and sincerely apologize for the harm I have caused.
Archbishop Vigneron responded to Finn's resignation with a brief statement, acknowledging he was aware of Finn's predation while denying any negligence on his part for leaving Finn in her SHS post: "While serving as rector of Sacred Heart in the late 1990s, I was given partial details about Sr. Mary's inappropriate conduct that had occurred in the early 1970s," he said. "At the time, I thought the matter had been resolved. I regret this was not the case."
In an Oct. 12 interview, Catholic broadcaster Al Kresta asked Vigneron about how he prioritizes cases of sexual impropriety in his archdiocese, noting reports of "significant sexual misconduct among clergy."
"Is that showing up as a problem in the archdiocese of Detroit, such that it requires special efforts on your part?" Kresta queried.
When it's brought to my attention, I act on it, and I was asked this question last night by a group of laypeople, and not only in the most grave sense of fornication and adultery, but even in the case of falling, or a wound to clerical chastity that has to do with an inappropriate intimacy, even though it might not involve genital intimacy, my job is to help the priests be better priests, and chastity is part of that.
"At what point does it become necessary to make this kind of problem public?" Kresta asked, pressing the archbishop on the issue of transparency. "In other words ... at what point do you say to yourself that this is not just a one-time weakness or lapse, but has become a regular problem?"
"In some cases, at least from conversations I've had with former priests," Kresta noted, "some people have no intention of remaining chaste."
The archbishop replied simply: "Well I appreciate your insight on that, Al. I'd have to say that's something I probably need to talk to my priests about."
Vigneron has often downplayed the scale of the sex abuse crisis in his archdiocese and refuses to acknowledge homosexuality as its root.
He has allowed men who actively shielded predator priests to remain on staff at the chancery. Jay McNally, for example, former editor of The Michigan Catholic, has written extensively about how Vigneron kept former communications director Ned McGrath and Msgr. John Zenz, among others, on the archdiocesan payroll in spite of the fact they covered up for serial pederast Fr. Gerald Shirilla.
Many faithful Detroit Catholics are gauging the archbishop's statement on Sr. Finn as simply more of the same.