A bishop who became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. charged with shielding an abusive priest was found guilty Thursday of failing to report suspected child abuse in a child pornography case, a conviction that adds to the Church’s struggles to shake its reputation for protecting pedophile priests.
Bishop Robert Finn received two years of probation, but that sentence was suspended. He is required to have mandatory abuse reporter training.
“I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events have caused,” Mr. Finn said to the judge.
Mr. Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were each charged with two misdemeanour counts of failing to report suspected child abuse to the state. Mr. Finn was acquitted on a second count. Prosecutors said Thursday they are seeking to dismiss the charges against the diocese. The judge is set to rule Friday.
The charges are related to the child pornography case of Rev. Shawn Ratigan, in which Mr. Finn and other church officials knew about photos on the priest’s computer but didn’t turn him in for six months.
A computer technician found child pornography on Mr. Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 and reported it to the diocese. Of the hundreds of images found, many focused on the crotch areas of clothed children, and one series showed the exposed genitals of a girl believed to be 3 or 4 years old.
Mr. Finn has acknowledged he was told in December 2010 about the images, but he 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.
Mr. Murphy confronted Mr. Ratigan about the photos, and the next day, Mr. Ratigan was found in his garage with his motorcycle running and a suicide note that apologized for any harm he had caused. Mr. Ratigan recovered after being hospitalized.
Mr. Finn sent Mr. Ratigan out of state for a psychological examination, then ordered him to stay at a convent in Missouri, where he could say Mass for the nuns. Mr. Finn also ordered Mr. Ratigan to avoid contact with children.
Later, after the diocese received reports Mr. Ratigan had attended a St. Patrick’s Day parade and a child’s birthday party, Mr. Finn ordered that police be given copies of the photos recovered from Mr. Ratigan’s laptop.
Mr. Ratigan pleaded guilty last month to federal charges of producing and attempting to produce child pornography, admitting to taking photos of children 2 to 9 years old. Prosecutors said they will request that he spend the rest of his life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.
While still damaging to Mr. Finn and the diocese, Thursday’s conviction came after an unusually swift trial before a judge instead of jurors, avoiding days of potentially embarrassing evidence.
A statement from Mr. Finn’s attorneys reflected that concern.
“This could have been a lengthy and emotionally difficult trial for all persons affected,” the attorneys said. “The bench trial, with a stipulation of testimony, has avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others.”
Mr. Finn also has acknowledged that a school principal had raised concerns about Mr. Ratigan’s behaviour around children in May 2010. State law requires that the Division of Family Services be informed of such evidence of abuse.
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