Bishops Sentenced to Probation for Failing to Report Suspected Child Abuse

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CNS) – Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was convicted Sept. 6 of one count of failing to report suspected child abuse and acquitted on another count in a brief bench trial.

Jackson County Circuit Judge John M. Torrence issued the verdict and quickly set and suspended a sentence of two years’ probation. The charges carried a possible maximum sentence of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

“I will pledge, both personally and in my capacity as bishop, to take every reasonable step to protect children from any abuse or misconduct perpetrated by clergy, diocesan employees or volunteers,” Bishop Finn said after the verdict. “I regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.”

He is the highest ranking U.S. Catholic official to face criminal charges related to child sex abuse.

Bishop Finn, 59, was indicted last October on the misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse to state authorities. The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had faced similar charges, but Torrence dismissed them after sentencing the bishop.

The case began in December, 2010, after a computer technician discovered child pornography on a computer used by Father Shawn Ratigan and turned it over to diocesan authorities.

Authorities were not notified until six months later, when a search of the priest’s family home turned up images of child pornography. Father Ratigan pleaded guilty in August to five counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography.

The Jackson County Circuit Court announced Sept. 5 that a bench, or nonjury, trial would be conducted rather than a jury trial.

Bishop Finn’s attorneys entered a nine-page stipulation of testimony that would have been presented at a longer trial before a jury. It outlined how knowledge of Father Ratigan’s activities surfaced and how the decision was made on when to report him to state authorities.

“This could have been a lengthy and emotionally difficult trial for all persons affected,” said Gerald Handley, J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn Keller, attorneys for the bishop.

“The bench trial with a stipulation of testimony has avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others.

“The diocesan process and procedures as previously existed failed to adequately identify the necessity for informing the (state) children’s division of Shawn Ratigan’s behavior in a more timely manner,” the lawyers said.