A precedent-setting case is about to come to a sudden and unexpected close.
The criminal case against the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest is headed for a swift ending after prosecutors and the bishop’s lawyer agreed Wednesday to let a judge — not jurors — decide the case.
Attorneys for Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and prosecutors will have their case tried by a judge Thursday, weeks ahead of a scheduled Sept. 24 jury trial on misdemeanor charges that Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph failed to report suspected child abuse. The judge is expected to reach a verdict later that day.
The charges stem from the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s child porn case, in which church officials knew about photos on the priest’s computer but didn’t turn him in for six months. Finn has argued that he was not the diocese’s mandated reporter under the law — at the time, the responsibility rested mainly with Vicar General Robert Murphy — so Finn should not face charges.
Mike Mansur, spokesman for Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said his boss and attorneys for Finn and the diocese have negotiated a set of stipulated facts that will be presented to Judge John M. Torrence on Thursday.
“Bench trials are not typical, but they do happen,” Mansur said. “Nothing about this case has been particularly typical.”