KANSAS CITY, Mo.— A Kansas City judge has found Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., guilty 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 following today’s ruling.
“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 expressed his gratitude that the court and prosecutor “allowed this matter to be concluded.”
Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence found the bishop quilty 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.
Jack Smith, a spokesman for the diocese, explained that the court entered a “‘suspended imposition of sentence,’ a process unique to Missouri and just a few states. It means that no conviction and no sentence are imposed so long as the terms of probation are fulfilled.”
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 scrutinized the response of Bishop Finn and the diocese to the case of Father Shawn Ratigan, a diocesan priest.
A technician found numerous lewd images of children, mostly prepubescent girls, on the priest’s laptop. He informed a deacon, who reported the finding to diocesan officials on Dec. 16, 2010.
The following day, the priest attempted suicide after diocesan officials informed him that they had discovered some of the images.
Bishop Finn had delegated the investigation of sexual-abuse claims to Msgr. 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.
In the wake of Father Ratigan’s arrest, Bishop Finn appointed Todd Graves, a former U.S. Department of Justice official who has worked on child-exploitation cases, to investigate the sequence of events that began after concerns were first raised about Father Ratigan’s behavior around children a year earlier.
That report was released in August 2011, and it concluded that diocesan policy on reporting suspected child abuse was not followed in a timely manner. Further, when faced with disturbing pictures found on the priest’s laptop and related problems, Church officials relied on limited professional judgments instead of the diocese’s independent review board.
The investigation also determined that once the priest was removed from his parish and told to stay away from children and computers Bishop Finn wrongly placed his trust in Father Ratigan to comply with restrictions placed upon his behavior. The guilty verdict addresses Bishop Finn's failure to report suspected abuse during this five-month time period leading up to Father Ratigan’s arrest in May 2011.
The diocese faces multiple civil suits related to Father Ratigan’s case.
National Catholic Register staff contributed to this report.