Kansas City, Mo., Sep 6, 2012 / 04:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Kansas judge has convicted Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph on one misdemeanor count of failure to report suspected child abuse and acquitted him on another count, while charges against the diocese have been dismissed.
“I regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused,” Bishop Finn said in a Sept. 6 statement provided to CNA.
“The protection of children is paramount. Sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated."
The bishop pledged to take “every reasonable step” to protect children from abuse and misconduct committed by clergy, diocesan employees or volunteers.
In spite of the guilty verdict, Bishop Finn said he is “pleased and grateful” that the court and prosecutor “allowed this matter to be concluded.”
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence convicted the bishop during a short non-jury trial Sept. 6. He sentenced the bishop to two years of probation and suspended the sentence. The bishop’s criminal record will be expunged if he completes a period of unsupervised probation without any new criminal incidents.
Prosecutors had sought two years of probation, while defense attorneys asked for the sentence to be suspended. The maximum penalty for the guilty verdict is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Bishop Finn is the first American bishop and the highest ranking U.S. Catholic clergyman to be found guilty in an abuse case.
The trial concerned the bishop’s and the diocese’s response to the case of Father Shawn Ratigan. A technician found numerous lewd images of children, mostly prepubescent girls, on the priest’s laptop. He informed a deacon who reported the find to diocesan officials on Dec. 16, 2010.
The priest attempted suicide on Dec. 17 of that year after diocesan officials informed him that they had discovered some of the images.
Bishop Finn had delegated the investigation of sexual abuse claims to Monsignor Robert Murphy, the diocese’s vicar general.
However, Msgr. Murphy did not contact law enforcement about the images until May 11, 2011. Bishop Finn was told about the pictures by the vicar general but never saw them himself.
In the facts presented at his trial, Bishop Finn acknowledged that he is a mandated child abuse reporter under Missouri law.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph also faced charges on the same two counts, but they were dismissed.
Lawyers for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph said that Bishop Finn’s agreement to a bench trial led to the dismissal of the charges against the diocese.
Bishop Finn’s lawyers, Gerald Handley, J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn Keller, said that the bench trial avoided the need for live testimony from diocesan employees, parishioners and others.
However, they also said the diocese’s operating procedures “failed to adequately identify the necessity” to inform the government of the priest’s behavior “in a more timely manner.”
“For this, the bishop is truly sorry,” the lawyers said.
An independent investigation of the case by Todd Graves, a former U.S. Department of Justice official who has worked on child exploitation cases, was released in August 2011. It found a failure to follow diocesan policy in a timely manner. Diocesan officials relied on limited professional judgments instead of the diocese’s independent review board. The investigation said that Bishop Finn misplaced trust in Fr. Ratigan to comply with restrictions placed upon his behavior.