Is It Time for Abp. Vigneron to Resign?

News: Commentary
by Jay McNally  •  •  January 21, 2019   

The Sr. Mary Finn case again confirms the secrecy and lack of transparency of Vigneron's tenure in Detroit

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In the wake of the stunning resignation last week of long-time Sacred Heart Seminary professor Sr. Mary Finn, HVM, who was revealed in the secular press to have been a sexual predator against novice nuns much younger than her, now is an opportune time for Detroit's Abp. Allen Vigneron to finally resign from all administrative authority in the Catholic Church.

The extraordinary details that led to Sr. Finn's resignation point to the tragic truth that, by every measure of performance — "misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance" — throughout his career as both an auxiliary bishop in Detroit (1994–2003) and another full decade as the ordinary in Detroit (since 2009), Vigneron has been a failure. The faithful should be spared the misery of watching his antics and the disastrous consequences of his lack of leadership.

Abp. Vigneron has been a failure.

The chain of events leading to Sr. Finn's departure from SHS after a 50-year run as a professor/counselor and spiritual guru (and whatever else she did) defy the imagination of anyone who is even halfway inclined to believe that Church officials in 2019 have learned much about how responsible adults behave regarding clerical sex abuse since the meltdown of 2002, and the McCarrick conflagration of last summer.

1975 photo of Sr. Mary Finn

Sister Mary Finn's order of nuns, the Home Visitors of Mary, was founded in 1949 in Detroit and includes a few nuns dedicated to working with the poor of Detroit. Their base of operations is a residence within a stone's throw of the archbishop's residence behind Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit.

The main point of focus for the purposes of this article is that Vigneron admitted in a cryptic comment released by the rector of Sacred Heart that he has known since “"the late ‘90s" that Sr. Finn was a sexual predator, and he "thought the matter had been resolved."

Let that sink in: That is a full generation he has held that secret, and Sr. Finn's classes were mandatory for all seminarians at Sacred Heart Seminary. Vigneron allowed her to remain a prominent fixture at the seminary all these years.

Even worse, with his knowledge of her lesbian sexual predation, he had the gall to give her a special award at the 2014 annual Bishops' Gala, an extravagant fundraising banquet attended by 850 people at Cobo Hall in Detroit.

With his knowledge of her lesbian sexual predation, he had the gall to give her a special award at the 2014 annual Bishops' Gala.

Here is how Sacred Heart's August 2014 edition of its magazine, "Mosaic," described the event:

A special highlight of the evening was honoring a beautiful example of God's artful handiwork, longtime faculty member Sr. Mary Finn, HVM. Guests celebrated Sister Finn's forty-five years of service to the seminary as well as her loving ministry to the people of Detroit. After Sister received gifts of appreciation from Archbishop Vigneron and Monsignor Lajiness, she gave a moving talk on the Sweet Gifts of the Spirit and how they have empowered her religious and teaching vocations.

Some enterprising movie maker someday could have a lot of fun showing the sexual predator receiving a special award before 850 donors, catching the special kind of cynical, even diabolical smirk or smile required by the archbishop as he signals to the predator, perhaps with a wink of an eyebrow: "It's our special secret."

Sister Finn's crimes fit the classic and always depressing pattern of sexual predators the world has seen described thousands of times from court testimony and journalistic accounts about priests over the last 25 years, since the Porter case in New Orleans.

  • Ever-so-clever manipulation, known as grooming, by the senior nun (in her 30s) of innocent, inexperienced and significantly younger novices in the religious order
  • Trips to a vacation-style getaway for weekend “retreats” far removed from supervision of others who might know about how sexual crimes are committed
  • The actual sexual abuse couched in the lingo of religion, the “spirituality” of it all
  • And then, when the victims figure out they’ve been had, the expulsion of the victims from the order
  • All this followed by cash payment (in this case $ 20,000) in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement that guarantees silence and protection for the offender

Observers must bear in mind the throwaway phrase from cops, counselors and prosecutors in nearly all sexual molestation cases is "there are probably many, many other instances these crimes we don't know about." The “unknown victims” is part of the logic behind the often draconian punishments for sexual predators. One really knows what happened owing to the reluctance of victims to come forward.

Sister Finn’s predation came to light thanks to the brilliant diligence Michael Betzold, one of Detroit’s best and most prominent investigative reporters going back at least 30 years. Betzold was a graduated of Detroit’s Sacred Heart Seminary in the late 1960s. Attentive readers will want to read the full text of his report, “Elderly nun resigns admitting inappropriate conduct with novitiate in past years," to grasp the gravity of the deceit by both the archdiocese of Detroit as well as the Home Visitors of Mary.

It was only because Betzold contacted Vigneron for information that he and seminary rector Fr. Lajiness quickly took action and forced Sr. Finn's resignation.

Following is the official statement released by the seminary on Jan. 16, just hours before Betzold’s story went online. It's noteworthy more for what it does not say than for its actual content.

In recent days, information came to my attention regarding inappropriate conduct over fifty years ago by Sr. Mary Finn. After a series of conversations with her, her superior, Archbishop Vigneron and members of the Archbishop’s team, I have accepted her resignation from the faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary, effective today.

As part of these conversations, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, chairman of the board of trustees at Sacred Heart, shared this:

"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. At the time, I thought the matter had been resolved. I regret this was not the case. In light of additional information and what we have come to learn about how best to respond to these situations, I support the decision to receive her resignation."

The administration and faculty of Sacred Heart continues to work diligently to maintain a healthy and safe environment for our students and seminarians. We are committed to transparency and dedicated efforts to ensure that our actions are consistent with our policies regarding misconduct response and prevention. As we move forward in faith, I ask that you join me in praying for all those involved and that the Lord continues to bless the seminary community.

As of Jan. 21 the statement from Lajiness is only visible on the seminary website.

The archdiocesan website contains only the following text about Sr. Finn, followed by Sr. Finn’s letter of resignation. It is not even titled a press release or a statement and offers no hint whatsoever about the nature of Sr. Mary’s "misconduct":

The Department of Communications of the Archdiocese of Detroit shares the following message from Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, regarding the resignation of Sister Mary Finn, HVM, from the faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

"It is only in recent days that I have come to know new and additional details and context regarding Sr. Mary’s misconduct. Based on this information, the current rector, Msgr. Lajiness, accepted Sister Finn’s resignation. I endorse this action."

Even though there have been countless assertions by archdiocesan officials claiming they are committed to transparency on these matters, these statements prove otherwise, revealing that even in the face of devastating documentation published in the secular press, Vigneron and Lajiness are in denial mode.

In his two statements — so far there have been no interviews with real reporters, print or electronic with Lajiness or Vigneron — the archbishop neither admits he made a mistake or error in judgment, nor does he even hint that he is responsible for Sr. Finn’s resignation. He “supports” the decision of Fr. Lajiness to accept the resignation. Nor does he condemn the behavior; the crime was far worse than “inappropriate conduct.” But Vigneron sounds as if he's merely an observer, possibly hiding under a desk.

Vigneron offers little hint of the real problem here: “the deep offenses against the Body of Christ,” to quote lingo one might hear from Fr. John Riccardo in any of his daily EWTN broadcasts about all sorts of people — except archdiocesan officials.

Additionally, there is no mention of the much-vaunted review board, which supposedly is on guard regarding these matters. It’s clear there has never been any kind of investigation by the board, only quick, panic-stricken action before Betzold’s article went to press.

By itself, the Sr. Finn story is example enough for Vigneron to leave his post. But his behavior of the last week is only part of a decades-long pattern of bad behavior unbecoming of anyone who holds the title of bishop, including keeping on the payroll men responsible for shielding notorious pederast Fr. Gerald Shirilla. Much of this has been covered in a series of articles published last fall by Church Militant.

Part of understanding the Finn story must include that she comes from the Dearden era 50 years ago and has all along been a determined “social-justice advocate,” much in vogue with the cliques that seem to really control the archdiocese, including the dissident Elephants in the Living Room, Dignity Detroit and a vast swath of others still under the spell of the vision of Dearden.

Several publications have published commentary about Sr. Finn's general personality. Nobody has accused her of being much for liturgical or doctrinal purity. This article includes comments about Finn that have been repeated millions of times by priests in the archdiocese, e.g., she was too "handsy." Said one seminarian, "In legal terms, it was unwelcomed touching. But if a seminarian reported it, they became a problem."

Sister Finn, after all, has taught virtually all Sacred Heart seminarians for half a century.

And finally, the Sr. Finn episode, which now must always first and foremost include Vigneron’s admission that he kept her crimes secret for 20 years, points to the real tragedy of Vigneron’s tenure in Detroit and more than hints at the prospect of even worse calamity for the archdiocese.

As was noted in a long article for Church Militant in August, Vigneron is simply unable to do the right thing, almost the same way pedophiles cannot always do the right thing, because he is crippled by a devastating addiction that afflicts most men in this era who are elevated to the rank of bishop. His addiction is to secrecy, which requires a long-practiced ability to dodge, weave, deflect, and do every kind of thing avoid telling the truth, as he has done this week with Sr. Finn.

His addiction is to secrecy, which requires a long-practiced ability to dodge, weave, deflect, and do every kind of thing avoid telling the truth.

Charles Wilson of the St. Joseph Foundation explained this addiction in 2002 in an effort to explain why as many as two-thirds of Catholic bishops protected known pedophiles with every kind of lie. His article is titled "The Narcotic of Secrecy." An excerpt:

The fixed star that has guided many American bishops in their handling of sexual abuse cases has been neither justice nor compassion, but rather secrecy. Bishops in the U.S. have taken extraordinary steps to prevent the faithful — and the general public — from learning of the sexual abuse of children by priests. They have pursued this policy of secrecy in every realm, including their pastoral decisions, their legal strategies, and their dealings with the laity.

While the addiction of men like Vigneron is secrecy, the sin is pride. A powerful case can be made that the most important thing in Allen Vigneron’s life is the power and prestige of Allen Vigneron — no more, no less.

If one looks for transparency and truth regarding Sr. Finn it cannot be reasonably found in anything released by Vigneron or Lajiness. The truth on these matters — sexual abuse in the Catholic Church — is found, as it too unfortunately often is, in the secular press, and has always been that way for the Catholic Church in Detroit for at least 50 years, and now appears will always be that way under Vigneron.


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