Originally posted at Talk to Action.
Robert Finn, the militant Opus Dei bishop and head of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri who was recently indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse has cut a deal with prosecutors in nearby Clay County in order to avoid similar charges.
Nevertheless, ubiquitous Catholic Rightist leader, Bill Donohue, is defending the bishop and his indefensible behavior.
As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn, previously best known for his Opus Dei vision of the Church and society, had constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Father Shawn Ratigan (who has since been charged with the latter crime).
Under Missouri law, failure to report such crimes is also a crime. A Jackson County Grand Jury took the unprecedented step of indicting both the bishop and the diocese on misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse. After being questioned by a Clay County grand jury on the same issue, a second indictment was a strong possibility.
Now, in order to head off that possibility, Finn has an agreement with the county Prosecutor Daniel L. White. The Kansas City Star reports that the diocese has accepted five-years of oversight in its dealing with possible incidents of priestly pedophilia:
His [Finn’s] agreement with Clay County requires him to meet face-to-face with White or his successor each month for the next five years to discuss any allegations of child sex abuse levied against clergy or diocesan staff within the diocese’s Clay County facilities. Finn also is to describe what steps the diocese has taken to address the allegations. White would then decide whether to encourage police to investigate any allegations.
Finn also agreed to visit all nine Clay County parishes to outline new programs the diocese is implementing to protect children. In those meetings, Finn will be accompanied by the diocesan ombudsman and a new director of child and youth protection.
Meanwhile, Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, the priest at the center of the scandal, was indicted by the same prosecutors on three counts of possessing child pornography.
Finn, it is alleged, withheld from police specific evidence implicating a Ratigan for five months, and failed to come forward until he was arrested. Finn had also been warned about the priest a year earlier. The New York Times reported in August:
Father [Shawn] Ratigan, 45, was also an outspoken conservative, according to a profile in The Kansas City Star. He and a class of Catholic school students joined Bishop Finn for the bus ride to the annual March for Life rally in Washington in 2007.
The diocese was first warned about Father Ratigan’s inappropriate interest in young girls as far back as 2006, according to accusations in the civil lawsuit filed Thursday. But there were also more recent warnings.
In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan worked hand-delivered a letter to the vicar general reporting specific episodes that had raised alarms: the priest put a girl on his lap during a bus ride and allowed children to reach into his pants pockets for candy. When a Brownie troop visited Father Ratigan’s house, a parent reported finding a pair of girl’s panties in a planter, the letter said.
As well as:
In December, a computer technician discovered the photographs on Father Ratigan’s laptop and turned it in to the diocese. The next day, the priest was discovered in his closed garage, his motorcycle running, along with a suicide note apologizing to the children, their families and the church.
Father Ratigan survived, was taken to a hospital and was then sent to live at a convent in the diocese, where, the lawsuit and the indictment say, he continued to have contact with children.
Parents in the school and parishioners were told only that Father Ratigan had fallen sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were stunned when he was arrested in May.
The Jackson County indictment’s graphic description of the photographs of children Ratigan had on his computer is very disturbing. Religion scholar Mark Silk recently elaborated:
Discovered by diocesan information systems manager Julie Creech, these were contained in a computer folder with an undisclosed name (the victim’s?) on it.
The first showed a little girl, face visible, standing and holding a blanket. In a “staged sequence,” the photos depicted a girl lying in a bed, from the waist down, and focused on the crotch. The girl was wearing a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was moved gradually to expose her genitals. By the last photo, her genitals were fully exposed. According to Ms. Creech, there were approximately six to eight pictures in this sequence of photos; two displayed fully exposed genitals and one displayed her fully exposed buttocks. The little girl’s face was not visible in the staged sequence, but due to her apparent physical size and the fact that the photos were in the same folder, Ms. Creech assumed the photos were of the same little girl whose face appeared in the initial picture.
It seems perverse to consider this staged toddler striptease show as anything but pornographic–or, for that matter, lacking an identifiable victim.
So, who would defend such indefensible behavior?
Catholic League president, Bill Donohue, that’s who.
He declared in a November 2, 2011 press release: “The SNAP-Star alliance against Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn is a natural: both are anti-Catholic.” (SNAP is the acronym for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests .)
But Donohue was just getting started. The next day, he issued another press release; this one claimed that The Star is nothing more than an “…echo chamber for SNAP.” Five days later, came another press release, this time accusing The Star of ignoring the story of then-Episcopal Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who decided to ordain a former Catholic priest — and admitted pedophile — Bede Parry as an Episcopal priest. (How this contradicts Donohue’s Star-SNAP conspiracy theory is discussed below).
On November 9, 2011 Donohue joined about forty Finn supporters at a protest/press conference in front of the offices of the Kansas City Star. This was followed by a series of press releases fired at both SNAP and the Kansas City Star on November 11, November 11 (again) November 14, November 15, November 16, November 16 (again), and November 17.
Donohue unsuccessfully sought to place an ad defending Finn in the Kansas City Star. The text of the rejected ad was disseminated in hopes of whipping-up support for the besieged bishop.
The ad glosses over Bishop Finn’s alleged complicity in Ratigan’s crimes. For example:
Last December, crotch-shot pictures of young girls, fully clothed, were found on Fr. Ratigan’s computer; there was one photo of a naked girl. The very next day, the Diocese contacted a police officer and described the naked picture; a Diocesan attorney was shown it. Because the photo was not sexual in nature, it was determined that it did not constitute child pornography. This explains why the Independent Review Board was not contacted-there was no specific allegation of child abuse.
By any objective standard, how is a picture of a naked child within that context not sexual in nature? Well, one theory being pushed by Finn’s supporters – including Donohue – is that the indictment is defective because “there was no identifiable at-risk child.”
The ad then veers directly into a personal attack on SNAP leadership.
These lines of defense incorporate much of the Catholic Right’s tactics of obfuscation and diversion.
For example, Donohue alleges that there is an alliance-in-conspiracy between SNAP and the Kansas City Star, but offers no facts to support the charge. He and the Catholic League then slam the Star for failing to go after Episcopalian Bishop Jefferts Schori over the Parry ordination affair. The League also questioned SNAP’s decision to hold the press conference in front of the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
The location was chosen because Parry’s 1987 alleged abuse of a young boy at a summer camp in a nearby diocese was while he was still a Catholic. SNAP was in fact, critical of Jefferts Schori for her ordination of Parry before Donohue alleged that the victims’ advocacy group and the paper were in cahoots. This begs the question: If the two parties were engaged in coordinated conspiracy, then why was SNAP making Parry an issue while the Star hadn’t?
More importantly however, is the League’s claim that Finn had no knowledge of incidents of pedophilia or that there was no identifiable victim.
First, Finn’s reported constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Father Shawn Ratigan is established by two separate warnings, one written and the other oral. Secondly, while no name of the female child in the photograph was known, identity could be temporarily be designated as “Jane Doe, minor.” To say that Finn’s defenders are splitting hairs is an understatement.
But what stands out about Finn’s defenders is that they appear to be well-coordinated. All this merits a closer look into what agendas Finn’s defenders are trying to advance beyond the matter at hand — which is what we will do in part two of this three-part essay.