The breaking news out of Kansas City:
A Jackson County grand jury has indicted Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse.
The charges, announced at a news conference today, make Finn — leader of the 134,000-member diocese — the highest-ranking Catholic official in the nation to face criminal prosecution in a child sexual abuse case.
The charges stemmed from the long-simmering controversy surrounding Father Shawn Ratigan, who is facing child pornography charges in Clay County and federal court.
“This is a significant charge,” said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. “To my knowledge, a charge like this has not been leveled before.”
The charge against Finn carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The diocese faces only the fine.
Word of the charges quickly rippled through the Catholic world, drawing surprise.
“For a bishop to be indicted is absolutely extraordinary,” said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and author of “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”
“This is a first. And 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.”
Baker emphasized that the pursuit of the case was the result of a grand jury investigation.
You can read the rest here.
The Catholic Key has the Diocesan statement, which I excerpt here:
Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph today acknowledged receipt of the misdemeanor charges brought by the Jackson County Prosecutor. Jean Paul Bradshaw and Tom Bath, counsel for the diocese, entered a plea of not guilty for the diocese. According to Gerald Handley and J.R. Hobbs, counsel for Bishop Finn, the bishop also entered a plea of not guilty.
“Bishop Finn denies any criminal wrongdoing and has cooperated at all stages with law enforcement, the grand jury, the prosecutor’s office, and the Graves Commission. We will continue our efforts to resolve this matter,” said Gerald Handley, counsel for Bishop Finn.
“In response to these charges Bishop Finn said, “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.”
More importantly, to address the issues that led to this crisis, I reinforced and expanded diocesan procedures. We added the position of ombudsman, effectively moving the ‘gatekeeper function’ outside the Chancery and under the authority of an independent public liaison, a skilled and experienced former prosecutor. I commissioned the Graves Report to accomplish a full independent investigation of the policies and events that led to this crisis. I ordered the report to be published in its entirety for the sake of full transparency.”
Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph. For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”
I ask the prayerful support and unity of our priests, our people, the parishes, and the Catholic institutions. With continued dedication, we will persevere in the many good works that are the hallmark of the faithful people of the diocese throughout its 27 counties and nearly 150-year heritage. With ever stronger determination, we will form, teach, and protect children and care for the spiritual and material needs of people who look daily to the diocese for assistance.”
With deep faith, we will weather this storm and never cease to fulfill our mission, even in moments of adversity,” said Bishop Finn.
There is more at the link.
I have friends who know and like Finn, and who say he is a faithful and strong bishop. I’m sure they are upset right now. We’ll have to see how it all plays out, and remember, too, that the Holy Spirit has a way of taking the stuff that seems upsetting and using it for an ultimate good we cannot always perceive while the whirlwind is whirling.
The fact is, though, we are not in a time or a place where mistakes, inattentiveness or poor judgment are being tolerated, and nor should they be. By now every churchman, every religious, every deacon and every lay minister should be exquisitely sensitive to this issue. And if they’re not, we need to understand how that can possibly be?
Googling God writes:
In terms of the sinfulness of his priest’s behavior–wouldn’t Bishop Finn admit that even looking at child pornography would be a form of abuse? Isn’t Fr Ratigan cooperating with evil simply by looking at these pictures and isn’t the sicko who’s taking lewd pictures, an abuser of children by definition?
Technically, Fr Ratigan is an abuser, once removed. Bishop Finn and Msgr Murphy twice removed.
What I find most appalling is that many people think that Bishop Finn and his Vicar General Msgr Murphy turned a blind eye towards Fr. Ratigan because of his staunch conservatism and his commitment to the pro-life cause.
Over on Twitter, someone said (paraphrase): “the only problem I have with the reporting on this story, so far, is that the press is going out of its way to mention Finn is a “conservative;” with no similar “liberal” labeling of Cardinal Mahony, in Los Angeles. Hadn’t noticed that, myself, but I am sure it’s so — and I’m certain that in parts the secular press we may see something like pleasure communicated at what some might call a “partial-scalp-taking.”
No matter what kind of topspin you try to put on this, it’s not a good story, but perhaps in the long run, it will help us to have a better story as a Church.