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Missouri bishop faces bench trial in case tied to abuse

By Bill Draper
Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:34 a.m. HST, Sep 06, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. » A Missouri judge will try the criminal case against the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest, three weeks before it was to go before a jury.

Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are charged with one count of failing to report suspected child abuse to the state.

Their trial was scheduled to start Sept. 24 in a case that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Instead, a set of stipulated facts negotiated by both sides will be presented this afternoon to Judge John M. Torrence.

Mike Mansur, a spokesman for Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said a verdict is expected by the end of the day.

The charges stem from the Rev. Shawn Ratigan's child porn case, in which church officials knew about photos on the priest's computer but didn't turn him in for six months.

Finn has argued that he was not the diocese's mandated reporter under the law — at the time, the responsibility rested mainly with Vicar General Robert Murphy — so Finn should not face charges. Attorneys for both Finn and the diocese also have argued that the state's law is unconstitutional.

Mansur said the decision to have a judge, instead of a jury, hear the case so close to the scheduled jury trial is unusual but not unprecedented.

"Bench trials are not typical, but they do happen," Mansur said. "Nothing about this case has been particularly typical."

A computer technician found child pornography on Ratigan's laptop in December 2010, and reported it to the diocese. Of the hundreds of images found, many focused on the crotch areas of clothed children and one series showed the exposed genitals of a girl believed to be 3 or 4 years old.

Finn has acknowledged he was told in December 2010 about the images. The bishop also has acknowledged that a parochial school principal had raised concerns about Ratigan's behavior around children in May 2010, half a year before the photos were found.

State law requires that the Division of Family Services be informed of such evidence of abuse.

Murphy confronted Ratigan about the photos, and the next day, Ratigan was found in his garage with his motorcycle running and a suicide note that apologized for any harm he had caused. Ratigan recovered after being hospitalized.

Finn sent Ratigan out of state for a psychological examination, and then ordered him to stay at a convent in Independence, Mo., where he could say Mass for the nuns. Finn also ordered Ratigan to avoid contact with children.

Later, after the diocese received reports Ratigan had attended a St. Patrick's Day parade and a child's birthday party, Finn ordered that police be given copies of the photos recovered from Ratigan's laptop.

Ratigan pleaded guilty last month to federal charges of producing and attempting to produce child pornography, admitting to taking photos of children 2 to 9 years old. Prosecutors said they will request that he spend the rest of his life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

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daniwitz13 wrote:
I can understand that no one likes to comment on Child Pornography and especially to take its side. One could be ostracized and a pariah for siding with the "other" side. This 'particular' law is an injustice to Society. It borders on Unconstitutional. Yes the High Court have have ruled against it, but why is it that of ALL the other gross, vile and disgusting, that ONLY this one cannot pass muster. This is NOT to say it is a good, but ALL bad should be applied together equally. Not ,every bad is OK, but NOT that one. And what exactly is Child Pornography? In essence ONLY IMAGES. Again it is saying, ALL images is OK, but NOT that one. The Law should be consistent and not pick and choose which ones they like. And in this case ONLY one has been singled out. Is it easy to "claim" that Children is the involved image. Laws are NEVER consistent dealing with Children. Many times they are thrown under the bus. The thought that someone could spend the rest of their life in prison for the images in a piece of electronic parts is mind boggling. To punish someone for his esoterical belief that the Human body is worthy of admiration and a creation of God, no matter what part is still the Human body. Odd that no one cares if a Gay say, 'if you don't want to Marry a Gay, then don't' But if one was to say, 'if you don't want to look at Child Porn, then don't'. does NOT fly well with the same people. I hope that one day, the High Court will reverse their decision. But until then pity.
on September 6,2012 | 11:23AM
daniwitz13 wrote:
It seems that ONLY pablum is approved by the STAR ADVERTISER. Be forewarned. Pity.
on September 6,2012 | 11:29AM
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