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Bishop Finn Found Guilty of Failure to Report Suspected Child Sex Abuse

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

On Thursday, September 6th, Robert Finn, the bishop who heads the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri was convicted by a Jackson County court of one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse.

There is no word yet on whether Bishop Finn will be deemed fit to continue to lead the Catholic Church in Kansas City.

Bishop Finn’s conviction stems from the  prosecution of Fr. Shawn Ratigan who has since pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography.

As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn had constructive knowledge of Ratigan’s improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography.

The National Catholic Reporter broke down the conviction as follows:

Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge John Torrence gave Finn a two-year suspended sentence of probation with nine conditions, including mandating direct reporting of future suspicions of child abuse to prosecutors.

Prosecutors had separated the charges against Finn and the diocese into two timeframes: Dec. 16, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011; and Feb. 11, 2011, to May 18, 2011.

Handing down his verdict less than an hour after the trial started, Torrence said he did not have enough evidence to convict Finn during the first timeframe, but evidence “exceeds that which would be necessary” to prove that the bishop “knowingly failed to report” possible abuse during the second.

On that charge, Torrence continued, “the defendant is guilty.”

Following Finn’s verdict, prosecutors asked Torrence to dismiss the charges against the diocese. While the prosecutors’ motion effectively means the charges have been dropped, Torrence said he would not be able to enter a judgment on the matter until Friday morning.

Finn avoided similar charges in nearby Clay County, Missouri by agreeing to government oversight of all pedophilia investigations for the next five years.

The Questions Now Raised

Throughout the proceedings the controversial Opus Dei prelate and Father Ratigan have been receiving legal help from the ultra-conservative, Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), an organization with strong ties to Opus Dei member Thomas Monaghan, William Donohue and several prominent Catholic neocons.

As I have previously noted this conviction could remove a high-profile social conservative voice in a Mid-Western bastion of liberal thought. Will Finn, the first U.S. Catholic bishop presiding over a diocese convicted of a crime, be removed from office?  If so, will he also be defrocked?

And what of Cardinal Dolan, Bill Donohue and their band of Catholic Right culture warriors who used this case to discourage transparency and accountability waging a scorched earth strategy against SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests as well as against the victimized children?  Will they be disciplined by the Vatican for their behavior?

Incredibly — but not surprisingly — Donohue and the Catholic League have taken a defiant tone, one that resorts to a despicable distortion of the facts. Here is a sample from Donohue’s September 7, 2012 press release:

Let’s get rid of some myths. Bishop Finn was not found guilty of a felony: he was found guilty of one misdemeanor, and innocent of another. The case did not involve child sexual abuse-no child was ever abused, or touched, in any way by Father Shawn Ratigan. Nor did this case involve child pornography.

The only one spinning “myths” here is Donohue. While Donohue is correct that Finn was found guilty of a misdemeanor instead of a felony is of little consequence. Either way Finn’s criminality is only a matter of degree.  To attempt to diminish the harm Ratigan had on the children and their families is outrageous. And then to claim, “no child was ever abused” is false, and suggests that Donohue’s sympathies are entirely with the perpetrator and enabler of these crimes against children and that he has also forgotten the profound betrayal of their responsibilities as priests.

Donohue then shifts from his sympathy for the pedophiles to a preposterous condemnation of the prosecution of these crimes.

The Catholic League supports harsh penalties for child sexual abusers, and for those who cover it up. But it also supports equal justice for all, and given what we know of what is going on in many other communities, religious as well as secular, we find the chorus of condemnations targeting Bishop Finn to be as unfair as they are contrived.

Children’s private parts were targeted in Ratigan’s photographs and Donohue claims that Bishop Finn is the victim? Such a declaration cries out for the Church to censure this contemptible man who claims to speak for American Catholics. To understand just how off-base Donohue’s defense is, consider this description of Ratigan’s behavior by The New York Times:

In May 2010, the principal of the Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan was working sent a memo to the diocese raising alarm about the priest. The letter said that he had put a girl on his lap on a bus ride and encouraged children to reach into his pockets for candy, and that parents discovered girl’s underwear in a planter outside his house. Bishop Finn has said he did not read the letter until a year later.
The prosecutor said the photographs discovered on Father Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 were “alarming photos,” among them a series taken on a playground in which the photographer moves in closer until the final shots show girls’ genitalia through their clothing. Confronted with the photographs, Father Ratigan tried to commit suicide, but survived and was briefly hospitalized.

If Finn remains at the helm of Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese the Vatican will essentially be telling the faithful that they care far more about high profile reactionary leaders, and little to nothing about the rest of us.

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