The Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, and the diocese he leads have been indicted by a county grand jury on a charge of failure to report suspected child abuse in the case of a priest who had been accused of taking lewd photographs of young girls.
The indictment is the first ever of a Catholic bishop in the 25 years since the scandal over sexual abuse by priests first became public in the United States.
Bishop Finn is accused of neglecting to report abuse that occurred as recently as last year — almost 10 years since the nation’s Catholic bishops passed a charter pledging to report suspected abusers to law enforcement authorities.
The bishop has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of the photos last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.
During that period Bishop Finn and the diocese had reason to suspect that the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, might subject a child to abuse, the indictment said, citing “previous knowledge of concerns regarding Father Ratigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Father Ratigan’s laptop, including a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and other images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions placed on Father Ratigan.”
The indictment was announced on Friday by the Jackson County prosecutor, Jean Peters-Baker. It had been under seal since Oct. 6 because the bishop was out of the country. He returned on Thursday.
“This is about protecting children,” Ms. Peters-Baker said.
The bishop and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged with one count each, a misdemeanor.
Bishop Finn appeared in court at 1 p.m. and pleaded not guilty, as did lawyers for the diocese.
Bishop Finn said in a statement, “We will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.”
He said that he and the diocese had given “complete cooperation” to law enforcement. He also pointed to steps he had taken since the scandal first became public, which included commissioning a report to look into the case and reinforcing procedures for handling allegations of abuse.
Father Ratigan was arrested in May and has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt last spring.
His case prompted a civil lawsuit filed in August that asserts that between December 2010 and May 2011, Father Ratigan attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.
The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign. Parishioners started a Facebook page called ’”Bishop Finn Must Go” and circulated a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “’actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.
Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to report anyone suspected of being a pedophile immediately to law enforcement authorities.
Bishop Finn, who was appointed in 2005, alienated many of his priests and parishioners, and won praise from others, when he remade the diocese to conform with his traditionalist theological views. He is one of few bishops affiliated with the conservative movement Opus Dei.