Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph have been indicted by a Jackson County, KS grand jury on misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse. Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to face criminal prosecution in a child sexual abuse case, and faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine (the diocese only faces the fine). Both Finn and the diocese entered not guilty pleas.
The significance of this indictment is not fully reflected in the potential penalties, Rev. Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, sums up the sea change: “For a bishop to be indicted is absolutely extraordinary…This is a first. And in terms of the Catholic Church, this is an extraordinary move which is going to signal that the times have changed. Neither people nor government are going to put up with any kind of activity that looks like a cover-up.” Finn was called to testify to the grand jury in September and testified that he would do “the best we can to cooperate with law enforcement.”
The indictment alleges that Finn and diocese had reasonable cause to believe that the Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest in the service of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, may have abused a child but did not report it to authorities. After the diocese discovered that Ratigan had hundreds of nude and sexualized photos of children on his laptop on December 16, 2010, Finn and the diocese restricted Ratigan from being around children but did not report their discovery to police until May 11, 2011. Ratigan is currently facing 11 counts of producing or attempting to produce child pornography and 2 counts of possessing child pornography.
The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign. Parishioners started a Facebook page called ’”Bishop Finn Must Go” and circulated a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “’actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.
Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to report anyone suspected of being a pedophile immediately to law enforcement authorities.
One year in jail. That’s all he faces. There ain’t no justice.