Bishop Finn escapes tough punishment; Catholic Church left hurting
The Kansas City Star
The criminal conviction of Bishop Robert Finn sends a clear message to the Catholic Church that those responsible for the safety of children will be held accountable, no matter how high their post in the hierarchy. Yet at the same time, the sentence on one count of failing to report suspicion of child abuse, is disconcertingly light: Two years of unsupervised probation.
Nevertheless, Finn has the unwanted distinction of becoming the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official to be convicted in the long-running abuse scandals. Finn said he was “truly sorry for the hurt these events have caused.”
Yet perhaps “these events” could have been avoided had the diocese strictly followed the terms of a settlement it signed four years ago. In that case, the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph put to rest a $10 million lawsuit involving several dozen people who said they had been sexually abused by priests.
The settlement included a series of pledges by the diocese to institute tougher policies covering priests and those in contact with children. Priests and other adults were warned: Any contact with children beyond a handshake “should only occur under appropriate public circumstances.” Significantly, the diocese vowed to strictly follow state law covering the reporting of child abuse.
Yet last May came news that lewd images had been discovered on the computer of a priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, and the diocese had failed to notify authorities for five months. In addition, a year earlier, a school official at Ratigan’s former parish had sent a letter to the diocese expressing concern about Ratigan’s behavior — which included allowing children to sit on his lap or dig in his pocket for candy.
A key finding in the Finn case was the acknowledgment that he was indeed a mandated reporter under Missouri law, with the duty to report suspicion of abuse.
Finn was also charged with misdemeanor counts in Clay County, but agreed to enter a diversion program, thus avoiding prosecution. Under the terms of that deal, he must meet face-to-face with the prosecutor on a monthly basis, making known any allegations of child sex abuse within the county involving priests or church staff. The program’s term is five years.
The whole imbroglio has not only decimated the church’s credibility but its moral standing. Finn’s conviction is a strong reminder that he must not be allowed to remain in his post as bishop. In legal terms, Finn got off easy. But the church, and its hierarchy has been put on notice.