In Kansas City, Missouri, Bishop Robert Finn, of the Roman Catholic Church, was convicted for not reporting suspected child abuse. He is the highest-ranking American Catholic clergy criminally charged with not reporting child sexual abuse by clergy, as well as found guilty. The jury acquitted him on a second count of not reporting child abuse.
However, Finn will serve two years probation, suspended, and his record will be free of charges if he adheres to conditions that include “mandatory abuse reporting training, setting aside $10,000 in diocese money for abuse victim counseling, and instructing all diocesan agents to report suspected criminal activity involving minors”. Reporters say this is an unprecedented decision by the judge.
The verdicts came after a short nonjury trial in Jackson County Circuit Court. Judge John Torrence immediately sentenced Finn to two years’ of probation, then suspended the imposition of the sentence. That means that if Finn finishes the probation without incident and completes nine steps as part of his sentence, the bishop’s criminal record will be expunged.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priest (S.N.A.P.) is disappointed with the verdict and wished the judge had him indicted, convicted, and jailed. They say this verdict has not worked in the past and the Church goes back to placing children at risk.
Only jail time would have made a real difference here and deterred future horrific cover-ups, anything less will not produce any meaningful reform.
The catholic hierarchy is notoriously secretive. When they backslide again it will be hard to catch them, everyone involved must be hyper vigilant if kids are truly to be safe. We are modestly hopeful about this arrangement, but only if prosecutors are extraordinarily vigilant and determined. Bishops are tyrants and tyrants rarely honor deals. Kansas City may now be tempted to become complacent, but now more than ever victims, witnesses, and whistleblower cannot give up and stay silent. Now more than ever anyone who saw, suspected, or suffered clergy sex crimes and cover-ups should step forward.
According to S.N.A.P. he also must create a $10,000 fund for counseling abuse victims.
Allegedly, this time will be different because Finn must do what the judge ordered for five years and if he does not, then the case begins again.
Prosecutors also charged the dioceses with two misdemeanor counts of not reporting child abuse, but then dropped those charges and expect the judge to sign off on that Friday.
The bishop, dressed in his traditional black garb, sat calmly throughout the hearing, even as he heard the verdict. He apologized before being sentenced, saying, "I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events have caused."
The bishop’s charges relate to Fr. Shawn Ratigan’s child pornography case, in which Bishop Finn and others within the Church knew about the pictures on his computer, but failed to report it to authorities for six months.
Bishop Finn was acquitted n the second charge, occurring from Dec. 17, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011, because the judge saw no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the bishop knew about the photos. However, concerning the first charge, the judge agreed there was evidence that Finn knew after February 11, 2011, because he sent Ratigan away to a convent in Independence, Missouri, telling him to stay away from children, but did not report the alleged abuse. Some parishioners called for Finn’s resignation due to his lack of reporting abuse.
Finn argued he should not face charges because he was not the diocese's mandated reporter under the law. At the time, the responsibility rested mainly with Vicar General Robert Murphy.
State law requires certain people, such as teachers, counselors, psychologists, doctors, and others to report alleged abuse to the Department of Family Services. These individuals are mandated reporters and are required to report suspected abuse.
Ratigan plead guilty to federal charges of producing and attempting to produce child pornography, admitting to taking photos of children 2 to 9 years old last month and prosecutors will request life in prison for him. The judge has not scheduled a sentencing date for Ratigan yet.
"I think that this is an amazing outcome, getting a bishop convicted of anything, "Kansas City attorney Rebecca Randles said of Finn's conviction. Randles is representing a dozen of Ratigan's victims in civil lawsuits.
"Of course we wish the diocese was also convicted, but we understand the process and how it works," she added.
Finn’s jury trial was scheduled for September 24, but his defense team and prosecutors agreed on a set of facts, which they presented to the judge last Thursday. During the bench trial, the judge recessed to consider his verdict, without witnesses or any other evidence. The bench trial prevented a jury trial that lasted for weeks, with testimony from the members of the dioceses, including employees and parishioners.
"The advantages of the process we used was that all of the victims and the victims' families were spared a very trying process, "Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said. "These victims' families – and I've spoken with many, many of them about today's case – they were all ecstatic that this could end today, with their child's anonymity protected."
Finn's attorneys, in a statement given to reporters after the trial, said having the judge hear and decide the case "avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others."
"This could have been a lengthy and emotionally difficult trial for all persons affected," they said.
According to the Kansas City Star, the facts that the defense and prosecution agreed on included Finn acknowledging that he is a mandated reporter under Missouri law and an admission to various conversations and knowledge of abuse.
According to the Kansas City Star the stipulation of facts included:
• A June 2010 conversation between Finn and Ratigan, in which the bishop told his priest that “we have to take this seriously,” after a Northland Catholic school principal complained to the chancery that the priest was behaving inappropriately around school children.
• A chancery computer manager’s determination in December 2010 that only four or five of the hundreds of lewd photos found on Ratigan’s laptop had been downloaded from the Internet. The rest appeared to have been taken with a personal camera.
• Ratigan’s denial, while hospitalized for a suicide attempt, that he had sexual contact with children or had any images of children involved in sexual acts on his computer.
• A statement from a Pennsylvania psychiatrist, who found that Ratigan was not a risk to children, which appeared to support the priest’s contention that he was the victim of mistreatment by a school official who complained about his conduct around children.
• A note that Ratigan’s “treatment” with the Pennsylvania therapist in early 2011 consisted entirely of telephone conferences.
• A letter from Ratigan to the bishop in February 2011 in which the priest admitted having a pornography problem. “I am going to give you a brief summary of how I got to where I am with my addiction to pornography,” Ratigan wrote.
• Finn’s acknowledgement in a March 2011 email that Ratigan had issues around children. “I am quite concerned about him attending” a sixth-grade girl’s party, Finn wrote. “I think this is clearly an area of vulnerability for” Ratigan.
• Finn’s statement at a meeting with other priests after Ratigan’s arrest that he had “wanted to save … Ratigan’s priesthood” and had been told that Ratigan’s problem was only pornography.
Attorney Rebecca Randles, who handles many similar cases, cautioned that the conviction of Finn does not guarantee she will win the other cases.
“We have certain elements that are established today with the failure to report, but there are other elements that are not,” Randles said. “So it’s helpful to the civil cases, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the civil cases win.”
This cases cost the diocese over a million dollars in legal fees.