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article imageBishop and Diocese that failed to report child abuse indicted

By Joan Firstenberg     Oct 16, 2011 in World
Kansas City - It's an historic indictment not only of a Bishop who failed to report a child abusing priest, but of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City as well. At an appearance in court Friday, the Bishop and the diocese denied wrongdoing.
Bishop Robert Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to face criminal charges in connection with the child abuse scandal that has rocked the church for decades. The indictment charges that not only did Bishop Finn, but also the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph had “reasonable cause” to suspect child abuse related to the Reverend Shawn Ratigan, but failed to report it between Dec. 16, 2010, and May 11, 2011.
News of the misdemeanor indictments shocked and dismayed the Catholic world. The Reverend Thomas J. Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church" responds,
This is historic, 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.”
The Kansas City Star reports that the indictments follow a furor in Kansas City when the news broke that Bishop Finn knew that one of his priests, the Reverend Shawn Ratigan, was taking indecent pictures of young girls in his care during an Easter Egg Hunt, spending weekends at the homes of parish families and with the bishop's permission, and presiding at a girl's First Communion, but he was not turned into police until five months after all this. Ratigan is currently facing child pornography charges in Clay County and federal court. The photos in question allegedly included images of a child’s naked vagina and up-skirt pictures focusing on a girl'’s crotch.
The charge against Bishop Finn carries a penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The diocese faces a fine of up to $5,000. The next court appearance for Finn and the diocese is Dec. 15.
Clergy abuse victims and those who work in the field were very pleased. W. Richard Sipe, who is a former priest and a mental health counselor in California who has dealt with priest sexual abuse for years says,
“This is monumental, there’s no question about it. This is a huge step that breaks the barrier of bishops being protected. This shows that bishops no longer are above the law.”
The Roman Catholic church has been plagued with sex abuse controversies for over two decades, Finn now becomes the highest-ranking cleric to face criminal charges in connection with it.
In other cities, church leaders have done much fancy footwork to avoid prosecution. In 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned from the Archdiocese of Boston over his repeated failure to remove abusive priests from the ministry. In that same year, U.S. bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which was supposed to require bishops to report all child abuse accusations to police.
Rebecca Randles, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in civil lawsuits against Ratigan and the diocese, says these charges could lead to positive changes.
“External accountability, we believe, will lead to internal transparency, and that is the step that is necessary to keep children safe."
But some local parishioners are shocked and saddened about the news of Bishop Finn's indictment.
Matthew Copple of Gladstone, whose child attends St. Patrick's school where Ratigan was a pastor, says
“The man may have been guilty of incompetence and negligence, but I do not see him as a criminal. That seems wrong to me. Let’s punish the people who committed the deed. I don’t see the need for the bishop to have a criminal record or be guilty of a crime.”
Mike Murtha, who has attended St. John Francis Regis Catholic Church for 19 years, said he would continue to support Finn.
“It is sad that it has come to that. He has admitted to his failings, and we will continue to pray for him.”
Reuters reports that there have historically been some criminal cases brought against other Catholic diocese. The Cincinnati archdiocese pleaded guilty in 2003 for failing to report abuse and was fined $10,000. The diocese in Manchester, New Hampshire, cut a deal with prosecutors in the previous year to avoid charges. The Kansas City diocese paid $10 million in 2008 to settle a civil lawsuit over priest abuse.
By charging the diocese along with the Bishop, prosecutors may have wanted to signal the level of their frustration. Brian Klopfenstein is a former Missouri prosecutor
"You don't want to tarnish the name of the Catholic Church, which can do many good things. But maybe they felt they had to do something profound to get people's attention. If it's so damn bad and you've been warned and warned and warned and you pay a settlement and there's no action, then it's almost like even though it's God's house, you can't turn a blind eye."
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