The case against Bishop Finn
Reuters has a thorough — and chilling — tick-tock on the case of Father Shawn Ratigan, the Kansas City-St. Joseph priest accused of possessing child pornography, and on what Bishop Robert Finn and other officials knew, and when they knew it.
Bishop Finn is facing charges that he did not report suspicions to the police, and his case does not seem strong — hundreds of lurid shots on Ratigan’s laptop computer, a history of complaints about Ratigan, Ratigan’s refusal to abide by restrictions placed on him, and his suicide attempt — and still no report to police:
As Ratigan regained his health, Bishop Finn, Monsignor Murphy and others in the diocese continued to agonize over what to do. More diocese officials and staffers were brought into the discussion, including consultations with legal counsel. Diocese officials ultimately concluded that the pictures did not appear to be pornographic because they did not depict sexual conduct, sexual contact, a sexual performance, or meet other criteria they believed would constitute child pornography, according to the Graves report and interviews with other sources.
Some inside the diocese believed that Murphy had fully explained the situation to police and had been told the pictures were not pornographic.
For his part, Bishop Finn maintains that he never viewed the photos himself but only had them described to him. In comments following Ratigan’s arrest, he called the pictures “inappropriate photographs or images.”
Following Ratigan’s recovery from his suicide attempt, the bishop sent him for psychiatric evaluation in Pennsylvania. After getting an opinion that Ratigan was not a pedophile from a Pennsylvania doctor who specializes in treating priests for mental health issues, Bishop Finn assigned Ratigan to live in a mission house with aging priests in Independence, Missouri, and warned him to stay away from his computer and not to use his camera.
As the time stretched on, diocese officials began to debate whether or not they should try to identify the children in the photos. They did not in the end make such an effort, and though diocese officials discussed calling the Missouri Department of Family Services, no such contact was made. The diocese also decided not to refer the matter to its own Independent Review Board based on the rationale that no victims had complained.
And in a move the diocese ultimately grew to regret, it continued to keep the matter a secret from the families attending its churches and schools.
Reading the whole piece, the criminal culpability seems pretty clear. A jury will have the final word, of course. But what if Finn is convicted? What happens? What if he is acquitted? The account shows he clearly violated the bishops’ own charter. What kind of accountability would there be or can there be?
NOTE: I initially wrote that Bp. Finn was facing trial early next year but I confused that with Msgr. Lynn’s trial in Philadelphia on charges of covering up for abusers. Josh McElwee at NCR reminds me that Finn’s pre-trial hearing is set for Dec. 15. Quite an Advent for KC Catholics.
Tags: Bishop Robert Finn