A Missouri state court has found Bishop Robert Finn of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. The 7 September 2012 conviction of Bishop Finn makes him the most senior U.S. Catholic cleric convicted in that church’s clergy sex abuse scandal.
After pleading no contest to the charges and declining to exercise his right to a trial by jury, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence placed Bishop Finn on probation, ordered him to ensure the diocesan staff implements an effective child abuse prevention programme, and create a fund to pay for the counselling of abuse victims.
Last week’s ruling follows the August conviction by a Philadelphia court of the secretary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Msgr. William Lynn, who was sentenced to six years imprisonment for covering up child sex abuse by Philadelphia priests.
In May 2010 teachers at a Kansas City parochial school shared their concerns with the bishop over the behavior of Fr. Shawn Ratigan. The bishop brought Fr. Ratigan into his office and counseled him over “boundary issues” but made no further inquiries into the school’s concerns.
In December 2010 a computer technician discovered a photograph of a child’s genitals on a computer brought in for repair by Fr. Ratigan. Further investigations subsequently discovered hundreds of pornographic photographs of the pudenda of pre-pubescent girls.
Contrary to state law, the bishop did not report the discovery to the police, but after consultation with diocesan lawyers sent Fr. Ratigan to a psychiatrist for an evaluation, who said he did not believe Ratigan was a threat to children. A parish priest subsequently informed the police of the discovery six months after the diocese learned of the photos. Fr. Ratigan has been indicted by Federal prosecutors on child pornography charges.
Prosecutors hailed the ruling as a “clear and ringing victory for the victims.”
This decision by the court “helps protect children and continued anonymity for these young victims,” Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said.
“We can be assured now that if an allegation of child abuse comes to the attention of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, there will no hesitation to report it immediately to the proper authorities.”
However, a spokesman for a victims’ rights’ groups disagreed. “Only jail time would have made a real difference here and deterred future horrific cover-ups, anything less will not produce any meaningful reform,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests