Bishop Finn Indicted, “Significant Charge”

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.

Bishop Finn, Epic Fail and Fallout
Catching a Creep in a Circle of Grace
Finn Struggles to Regain Credibility

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Stephen Taylor

    I am sorry he didn’t respond when he found out. I am also sorry it has come to this. You are right Elizabeth, this is a time for everyone to be very careful and pay attention to the smallest details. I won’t even teach piano lessons because it requires you to touch beginning students and mom’s aren’t willing to sit through a lesson.

  • Elizabeth Scalia

    When my sons took music lessons I was always sure to stick around. It’s just that kind of world, now.

  • Jonas

    Nice guys finish last. The good news is that Finn can do a year standing on his head, and he can cough up a grand in a nanosecond. Maybe he will grow a brain in jail and when he gets out, he will outlaw all novus ordo masses, go to Latin only EF Masses, and tell any priest who refuses, that he will be laicized. Then he can start on the politicians. Before I forget, he can then refer to the Great Pope Saint Pius V, who called for priests who are convicted of sexually abusing children to be laicized and handed over to the State to be executed for the heinous crimes against children. Set an example, Your Grace!

    [What's it like to have all the answers? :-) -admin]

  • Kevin

    Does anyone know of a good resource that contains a good timeline and explanation of what Bishop Finn is alleged to have done, exactly, that was either immoral or criminal or negligent?

    I understand that he should have asked to see the “full report” in the principal’s letter, but there was no evidence of any criminal activity at that point, and I don’t understand what he could have done in any case without simply acting on a suspicion that his priest seemed creepy.

    What I don’t understand is the charge that he failed to report. Were there specific legal guidelines in terms of whom Finn should have reported to in case he suspected child abuse? That isn’t clear from the indictment or any of the news stories. If the police officer that the diocese contacted were told about all of the photographs instead of just one, would that have satisfied the law? Or is the problem that the law specifies that “reporting” must be done to a particular person or committee and not just any member of law enforcement? I don’t understand.

    Also, were the photographs that were discovered the first time around in fact illegal under Missouri law? The stories don’t make that clear. Would that matter, in terms of the diocese’s or the bishop’s criminal liability?

    There’s a lot that I find confusing about this, that I don’t understand. I agree that from our perspective as Catholics, we should want our bishops to be extremely attentive to this issue. But now does not seem to be the right time to throw Bishop Finn under the bus, because I fear that we would be giving way too much power to Caesar. I find it almost impossible to believe (at least according to the little I currently understand about this story) that Finn could be criminally liable in any way, and Catholics and other people who care deeply about religious freedom should vehemently object to this prosecution if it turns out to be as unjust as I suspect.

    In terms of the media, while I agree that child pornography is in fact abuse, I can’t help but think that the headlines about abuse coverup are intended to conjure other sorts of ideas that go well beyond child pornography. The concluding paragraph in the NY Times story is despicable.

  • Todd

    ” … 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.”

    Two things. First, Cardinal Mahony is no liberal. We don’t want him: trust me.

    Two, Bishop Finn’s first pastoral letter dealt with the scourge of pornography, a cause usually, but not always taken up by conservatives. When a public figure who presents himself or herself as a leader of virtue stumbles, it’s news. I don’t think Bishop Finn’s fatal flaw is being conservative. He seems to be a bit naive and uninformed about addiction and sexual matters.

  • Oregon Catholic

    All I have to say about the indictment is that finally, we may start to see episcopal accountability. This is the perfect case to start with.

  • JH

    Here are a few thoughts. I just have finished reading the Independent Investigation of the Diocese of Kansas City. LINK is here

    Go to “report” that is linked in the body for the very good and well done 141 page PDF that was made by the “FIRM” which was composed as you can see of some major legal heavy weights from the Federal and State level.

    If people are going to talk in a intelligent manner abt this case this seems required reading. Further with the quality of investgators and staff that did this I am willing to be it might be very close to the actual Gand Jury testimony

    I find it amazing this has been published and on their web site since it appears Sept 1st and no one seemed that concerned to read it. I know I did not because it appears the major Catholic media that keeps up with this lost interest in this case till today.
    If you want to get the matter that the Bishop and Diocese got indicted for go page 71. Though I do recommend reading earlier the stats as to abuse in the cases in the Diocese as a whole and specific cases starting at page 38.

    It shows actually a good record by the Bishop and the related Board as to this matter with perhaps a mistep or two as they were in the process of trying ot figure all this out. It also shows by the STATS what we have know from other data. That for whatever the abuse by Clerics and other seemed have had a massive drop off some time ago.

    Then came Fr. Ratigan (page 71 of the hardcopy)

    Just a few observations. So not to taint people reading of it. It strike me that the Priest’s attempted suicide , the thought he would not survive, the thought if he would survive he would be mentally damage to the critical role the Medical Expert that played a critical roll in all this when he was examined caused this all to go off the tracks.

    “Googling God” might have heard rumors and hearsay that because the Bishop shared “conservative” or :”traditional” views of his Priest that it clouded his judgment. Well maybe. But of course we have a list of Priest names in this report to see how they were treated. Were they “liberal” ? Regardless one can just feel the shock of the attempted Suicide and the unfortunate expert Doctor opinion played a critical role in this case going off perhaps the regular route.

    One thing to note here is the odd talk of the Suicide note that only one person ( A Deacon) got a fleeting glance at , but the “Firm” believes from their sources mentioned children. This seems important because this note was never in possession of the Diocese and has been and still is we assume perhaps in possession of the police or perhaps the family. If it did mention kids why did the police not investigate them. That area is murkey but struck me as significant. For a discussion of that see page 93 and the footnote.

    There were missteps here and perhaps its probable cause here. But after reading this all I am still not sure it rises to a level of Criminal conduct to convict.

    It shows misteps and also shows again how in my mind the Suicide attempt might have clouded the Bishop’s mind when dealing with a person that like most Child abusers that are charming and can convince you the sky is red and the grass is blue

    That’s my initial take but it appears this report is must reading to see how it appears this all played out.

  • JH

    Oregon Catholic,

    I would advise out of this case we might see more than just “Episcopal accountability” This is going to present perhaps a whole new standard for LAY workers in the Church and their responsibility. One in which , as I have noted and preached on, they seem to want to Shift too the Bishop alone. If you read this case LAY involvement and invovlement is signficant. So just recall it is much needed that this case gets a fair hearing. Because precedents could be set that might put a lay worker or even lay volunteer head in the noose for making “mistakes”. As I always preach Catholics for some reason in the lay state think that will not affect them. WHY I have no idea but they live in that delusion

  • kenneth

    It’s WELL past time that bishops who actively conceal predators are held to account.

  • Michael Lyons

    First of all, I only discovered your blog about a month ago. I have been an avid reader since. Thank you for creating it. I am a former Franciscan (although still VERY Franciscan!), who appreciates that your blog seems to be neither too conservative nor liberal, but always timely.
    I appreciate reading about the growth spurt in women in habits, as well as trying to make us aware of the need to assert ourselves as Catholics.

    I have followed the Finn drama since June ( I happened to be in KC on business when the story broke), and am angry with a Bishop who tries to force his arch- conservative view on his flock and then ignores this severe problem. His priorities are definitely in the wrong place. How dare he minimize this problem of this priest and then hide it hoping it would go away? His hypocritical actions came out too clear in the report. The Vatican and The NCCB have some damage control to do quickly… Archbishop Dolan is a great man for the job. Somebody needs to get him involved NOW! Get Finn out and save the Church of KC. Show some sound spiritual and business direction, or things will get worse there. Shame on Finn for trying to make people follow a Bishop like the did in Pre Vatican days, and not complementing that Principal for coming to bat for HER flock of kids. She should be commended, and he should learn by her example!!!

    Thank you Anchoress, and I continue to pray for the success and growth of your blog!

  • J.D.

    Oregon Catholic and Kenneth,

    I’m not sure Bishop Finn is at the top of the list of those who need to be held to account for misdeeds, nor has it been proven, Kenneth, that the Bishop ‘actively conceal[ed]‘ Ratigan’s misdeeds. Let us not take our anger at the failures of other Bishops out on the nearest obvious target. Peace.

  • B. Durbin

    I have a friend who just used this story to rant about how the “celibate clergy and its repression of sexual desire” is the root of all of these issues. I… well… I took the snark option and asked him why that would be the case if there’s a higher incidence of sexual misconduct in elementary through high schools, and gave a link to the Department of Educational report on the subject. We’ll see if he delinks me tomorrow.

  • Todd

    “I took the snark option and asked him why that would be the case if there’s a higher incidence of sexual misconduct in elementary through high schools …”

    Unfortunately, there’s a higher rate of institutional cover-up among bishops than high-school principals.

  • Andy

    The problem for the bishop is not that he a conservative or a liberal for that matter; the problem is appearances. The Catholic Church has been rocked with sex-abuse scandals; the leaders of the church both here and abroad have “pledged” to be aware and to fully cooperate with investigations and to remove accused clergy from settings where this might happen again. The fact that Father Ratigan continued to not follow the restrictions and the Bishop seems to have done nothing about it is the problem. Had he taken steps to move Father Ratigan to a “safer” non-interactive setting we wouldn’t be reading about this.

    A quick note to B. Durbin – the study you cite also includes sexual abuse/contact between students as well as adults. Like the “current” bullying problem, and all similar to what the bishops did the schools administrators, school boards ignore, cover-up and deny, and interfere with investigations.

  • JH

    “Unfortunately, there’s a higher rate of institutional cover-up among bishops than high-school principals.”

    Actually Tom as to School boards an Teacher Unions it appears there is not. In fact it might be much more higher.

  • Todd

    “Actually Tom as to School boards an Teacher Unions it appears there is not. In fact it might be much more higher.”

    I seriously doubt it. It seems to have been a common practice for bishops before 2002, and it might be that more bishops did it than not. Since 2002, we’ve had high profile cardinals like Rigali and George, plus bishops like Finn and Walsh, caught in grave moral and legal blunders.

    A pedophile teacher does not answer to a higher authority, unlike a priest. I suppose it would be possible for a teacher to negotiate a quiet settlement, then move to another state and set up shop again. But for the level of institutional cover-up to be congruent, you’d have to have a teacher moved to another school within the same district. I doubt we would find a 30-60% conspiracy rate i the public school system. But if we did, then yes, it would be a scandal comparable to bishops. Except that principals and school boards don’t preach the Gospel.

    “Had (Bishop Finn) taken steps to move Father Ratigan to a “safer” non-interactive setting we wouldn’t be reading about this.”

    Exactly. Sexual addiction and inappropriate sexual behavior is an epidemic in western society. Clergy, teachers, parents: lots of people who were in roles of trust two generations ago have very public examples of shame. Today’s scandal is the cover-up of abuse by bishops. In this instance, by a bishop who made sexual misbehavior one of the centerpieces of his pastoral ministry.

    Now, I applaud the effort to help men who are addicted to pornography. And Bishop Finn did very well to address this issue through his pastoral letter and the follow-up initiatives. That he didn’t learn the lessons he meant to teach does not look well for him. He has damaged not only his credibility as a man and as a bishop, but he has hogtied any pastoral effort he wishes to make in his diocese. He has shown himself as a finger-pointer, but seemingly unwilling to reform his own life. How can any Catholic take him seriously?

  • kenneth

    In answer to Kevin, here is one story which lays out the timeline and facts pretty well:

    Finn belongs “under the bus.” Not to indulge “Caesar” but because he is not an emperor himself. He is subject to the same laws as any citizen. As a Catholic bishop in this day and age, he has zero excuse for not knowing right from wrong in this matter. He was made fully aware of the extent and nature of the hundreds of photos found on his priest’s computer. Some were nude, some were not. All were clearly the collection of a man with sick and criminal interests in children. Any reasonable person should know that children are being endangered through this enterprise, whether they were being posed by the priest himself, some sick online buddies of his, or some cartel halfway around the world.

    Finn, however, did what bishops have always done throughout the course of this scandal. He looked for the loophole. His version of “reporting” to law enforcement was in fact a weak back-channel discreet inquiry. He had his subordinate talk to a member of the diocese review board who happened to be a cop. The churchman, some monsignor, described ONE image to the cop, one of the milder images. Without seeing the image or knowing the full extent of the disgusting cache, the officer opined that it “probably” would not, in itself, trigger charges. Finn didn’t report the crime to anyone in any real sense of the word. He ran an hypothetical question by an officer through a third party, and was not even forthcoming in that inquiry.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I am glad the church is being cleaned up.

    Now, if someone would just do the same with the U.N. . . .

  • friscoeddie

    The sad business is not the measly misdemeanors of cover up. It’s that some bishops perjure themselves in depositions and court. This perjury stance is what the anti-catholics have accused the church of maintaining for hundreds of years. Some bishops think they have the right to perjury, the right given them by Jesus to ‘protect’ the church. We need canonical trials of bishops for heresy ..for those who believe and pass on this baloney.

  • SKay

    We know that pedophiles cannot be cured. The Church has suffered great harm in order to learn that valuable lesson. The Bishop must know this–yet he did not remove the priest immediately. Very disappointing.

  • JuliB

    Oh my – it seems to get worse. The priest allegedly took photos himself of a girl? Of course, this is only allegation at this point (that the Bishop knew about it):

  • jack B. Nimble

    There is another shoe waiting to drop here. There is a different grand jury in a neighboring MO. county whose indictment (if any) is yet to issue. I seem to recall reading Bp. Finn and his sidekick monsignor, along with other principals mentioned in the commissioned report of lawyers (paid by the church) gave testimony before the grand jurors. His Grace may yet face a felony charge.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    I am so damn sick and tired of Catholics reflexively defending episcopal malfeasance and making excuses for bishops who are “orthodox,” “traditionalist,” “progressive,” whatever. The world has seen so often in this crisis that the “orthodoxy” or “heterodoxy” of prelates and priests is utterly irrelevant, which raises two interesting questions:

    1. Does one need to be “orthodox” or “heterodox” to do what is so obvious morally and ethically?

    2. Are Catholics so infatuated with “orthodoxy” and “heterodoxy” that they relegate legitimate questions about the moral behavior of their leaders to a lower place?

    Bishop Finn’s lack of urgency is nothing new. It has been the hallmark of the Church’s response to clerical sex-abuse at least since 1049, when St. Peter Damian wrote his treatise, “Liber Gommorianus” (“The Book of Gomorrah”), describing not only priests sexually abusing children but priests taking mistresses and other such misdeeds. Pope Leo IX initially supported Peter, then backed off under pressue. This was a thousand years ago, people!

    There’s something even worse going on here: God’s holy name is besmerched by such grotesque sin. I suggest you all pick up a copy of “Losing My Religion,” written by William Lobdell, a former editor and reporter with the Los Angeles Times. Lobdell was considering becoming an evangelical Protestant when the fiscal scandals invovling TBN and Paul Crouch broke. Then he was considering becoming Catholic when the clerical sex-abuse crisis in Boston broke. As a result, he couldn’t believe that a just God would allow such travesties to happen in His Name, so he became an atheist.

    Lobdell’s logic might be extremely faulty (just read Ezekiel 34 and Matthew 23). But how many others have rejected God and His Son because of legitimate disgust with ecclesiastical corruption? Do you think that a holy, righteous God — the quintessence of purity — will not hold the perpetrators to account in a way that would boggle the mind of the average Christian?

    Catholics can’t have it both ways. You can’t declare the Church to be the “One True Church” that preaches “the fullness of the Gospel,” yet mitigate the responsibility of its leaders when confronted with grave sin, or commit it themselves, or downplay the situation or make excuses. Christ Himself said that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required. If the Church really preaches the fullness of the Gospel, then it will have to account to God and His Son for much more than its defenders would care to admit.

    God is not mocked. The Church’s leadership long ago rejected Jesus’ model of self-sacrificing service described in John 13-16. It has sacrificed that mandate on the altar of power, wealth, secular influence, intellectual vanity, institutional arrogance and a pervasive sense of entitlement. It has infected too many of its members with those same qualities. I hope Bishop Finn’s indictment is the start of many more such indictments. Only when the Church’s real values (those I just described) are threatened will it act with the aggressiveness it lacked since the 11th century.

    If you don’t believe me, then ask yourselves this: Would the Council of Trent ever taken place without the challenges Luther brought?

  • elleblue

    I work for an AIDS service organization and today trained new volunteers coming on board. Confidentiality is a huge issue and concern for us and our policies and procedures are rigious. Having said that, the one time confidentiality can be breached and is demanded here in Canada by law is if anyone suspects a child is being physically or sexually abused or neglected. And if you don’t report it and a case is investigated or goes to trial you can be charged with a criminal offense.

    I like Bishop Finn and strongly believe he is a great leader however why isn’t the Church at large encouraging all of us to report any suspected abuse to civil authorities. I don’t think right now that the Church has the resources or training necessary to do it’s own investigations and should be relying on civil authorities.
    When I worked with children in care and when they would start to confide to be about sexual abuse I had to stop and tell them that anything they told me I was bound by law to inform their social workers and the police.
    Do I feel the bishop is being made an example of, yes I do. Is it right, no. He has my continued support and prayers.

  • bill bannon

    I think there is a hidden unconscious pride in the Catholic hierarchy and clergy that they are above the police, above laws, above the courts. Finn promised to report such sex abuse matters immediately as part of a previous court settlement wherein the diocese paid out $10 million. He promised. That he knew there was serious matter in December of 2010 is evidenced by his ordering Ratigan to a convent and to stay away from children….which order Finn did not monitor because Ratigan continued to be near children between December and May. Now Finn is listing all he did after May instead of confessing his non monitoring of Ratigan. They feel above the law.
    Hence in another area, breaking immigration laws is nothing to cry about for Bishops and clergy because one is not breaking Church laws….only Caesar’s law. Christ did not think like them but reminded Pilate that his power came from God, ” You would have no power over me at all were it not given you from above.”. Christ saw the state’s power as coming from God….many of our clergy unconsciously feel they are above state law which for them comes not from God but comes largely from
    non Catholics.
    Hence Finn did not keep his promise to the state from the previous case nor did he even observe his own procedures but his response is to list all the wonderful things he did post May….after insufficiently watching Ratigan.