US Catholic bishop charged in alleged porn cover-up

Robert Finn and Kansas City Diocese reportedly knew about behavior of clergy member, waited 5 months to report abuses to police.

By REUTERS
October 15, 2011 10:55
3 minute read.
Girl stands in Catholic Church.

church girl 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Max Rossi)

KANSAS CITY - Kansas City's Roman Catholic bishop has become the highest-ranking church official charged in the United States in the long-running clergy sexual abuse scandal, accused of failing to report suspected child abuse involving a priest's photographs of young naked girls.

Prosecutors in Jackson County, Missouri, said on Friday that Bishop Robert Finn, 58, became aware of child pornography images on the laptop computer of Reverend Shawn Ratigan in December 2010 but failed to appropriately notify police or state child abuse authorities for five months.

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Finn's lawyer entered a plea of not guilty in court on Friday and the bishop issued a statement saying he would fight the misdemeanor charge -- which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine -- "with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense."

Previously, no American Roman Catholic bishop had been charged with covering up such crimes.

The Catholic diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, that Finn led was also hit with the same charge. The diocese agreed to pay $10 million three years ago to settle previous sexual abuse allegations made in civil lawsuits.

"This case is about protecting children. I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said, adding that a grand jury handed up the charges Oct. 6.

Ratigan already faces charges of possessing child pornography after hundreds of images of naked children were found on his laptop computer. Ratigan was charged with taking sexually explicit photographs of at least five young girls, ages 2 to 12, between 2005 and his arrest in spring 2011.

Finn, appointed to head the diocese in 2005, had been under fire over the Ratigan case and he and and other church officials had testified before the grand jury.

'Answered questions fully'

"Months ago after the arrest of Shawn Ratigan, I pledged the complete cooperation of the diocese and accountability to law enforcement. We have carried this out faithfully. Diocesan staff and I have given hours of testimony before grand juries, delivered documents, and answered questions fully," Finn said.

Earlier this year, the diocese hired former US Attorney Todd Graves to investigate, and his report last month concluded that diocese leaders "failed to follow their own policies and procedures" in Ratigan's case.

The diocese over the years has faced lawsuits from scores of people who claimed to have been sexually abused by priests, mostly in the 1950s through early 1970s. Bishops have been faulted by victims and their lawyers for failing to take action to stop the abuse and to remove priests.

The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said numerous church officials in Kansas City, and elsewhere, have kept abuse cases secret.

"We believe others on the church payroll also concealed crimes, misled parishioners and endangered kids," SNAP director Barbara Dorris said in a statement.

Numerous lawsuits have alleged that senior church officials concealed abuses and, in some cases, transferred offending priests to unsuspecting parishes.

A grand jury in Philadelphia in February indicted three priests, a church teacher and Monsignor William Lynn, who oversaw priests in the diocese, the first such indictment of a senior US church official.

In 2003, an Ohio judge accepted a no contest plea on behalf of the Cincinnati diocese from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and levied the maximum $10,000 fine for five misdemeanor counts of failing to report a felony. That abuse occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to Pilarczyk becoming bishop.

Similarly, trials were avoided in the dioceses of Phoenix, Arizona, and Manchester, New Hampshire, where bishops signed agreements with prosecutors admitting cover-ups.

In a statement issued in June, Finn said he learned about pictures of an unclothed child on Ratigan's computer in December 2010 and consulted legal counsel and a Kansas City police officer, who was the review board member. The officer said the pictures did not sound like pornography, but he said later he did not actually see the pictures.

Finn apologized to parishioners of the diocese for failing to do more to detect and report alleged abuses by Ratigan, accepting "full responsibility for these failures."
 


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