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Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese have been indicted for failing to report the suspicion of an abusive clergyman. After discovering child pornography on the computer of one priest, Father Ratigan, Finn withheld the truth of his findings for five months before alerting the police. The prosecutors have charged the bishop and the diocese with the class A misdemeanor of child endangerment.
Jackson Country prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker told the CNN that “the fact that this is a misdemeanor complaint should not diminish the significance of this charge [...] This is a significant charge. To my knowledge, a charge like this has not been leveled before.” Peters-Baker is right about the unprecedented nature of this indictment — a US bishop has never been held responsible for the misconduct of their clergy.
According to a Vatican expert, this represents a “new willingness to go after the highest officials in the church and hold them accountable,” reports CNN. The Kansas City bishop has pleaded not guilty to the charges, promising to fight the allegations ‘vigorously’.
“Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph,” he told the press. “For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”
After the eruption of the Catholic sex abuse scandal in 2002, a selection of regional grand juries have been reviewing how bishops handle abuse claims against their priests and recently, questions have been raised about the discipline of these reviews.
According to ABCnews.go.com, church leaders promised to take clergy members who were under credible suspicion out of commission but recent cases, including that of Father Ratigan, suggest that some leaders have neglected their responsibility.
Being the first US Catholic bishop to be criminally charge, Finn is not the only one who’s been caught over clerical misconduct. However, other bishops have made deals with their local authorities to avoid prosecution. If convicted, the Kansas bishop faces a maximum penalty of one year behind bars and a $1,000 fine. The diocese would also be reliable to pay a $1,000 fine.
According to ABCnews.go.com, the bishop have admitted to finding the incriminating images on December 16, 2010 but the incident was not reported until May 11, 2011 after a parish principal had raised concerns about Father Shawn Ratigan’s inappropriate behavior around children.
Ratigan was charged with “three state child pornography counts” in May and with “13 federal counts of producing, possessing and attempting to produce child porn” in June, wrote the ABC news report. He remains jailed on a not-guilty plea.