KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Jackson County courtroom was full of people who weren't surprised Bishop Robert Finn avoided jail time on Thursday, but believed a jail term would have sent a stronger message to other Catholic dioceses around the world.
Bishop Finn could have been sentenced to up a year in jail for each of the two misdemeanor charges, but instead the judge found him guilty of one count and gave him two years of unsupervised probation.
Members of SNAP, the Surveyors Network of those Abused by Priests, expected the probation sentence but hoped it would be stiffer. The group believes the bishop's speedy bench trial kept the secrets regarding other top Catholic officials who allowed the abuse within the diocese under wraps.
SNAP director David Clohessy does believe that the conviction sends a message to diocese around the world regarding child sex cases, albeit a weaker one than if he had gotten jail time.
"We think that if bishop Finn were to spend some time behind bars, that would send a very strong message to Catholic officials across the country that times are beginning to change and that clergy sex crimes have to be take seriously," Clohessy explained.
An attorney representing the victims in a civil lawsuit believes the conviction will help her clients' cases.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker said she did not seek jail time for Finn because she felt probation and training was the best way to change the way the Catholic Diocese monitors and reports child abuse.
"We talked about the best way to hold someone accountable, and in this case, with the limited options we had with a misdemeanor, it was a structured probation, so that we can make sure those changes happened," Peters-Baker said.
The same two misdemeanor charges filed against Finn were also filed against the Diocese, but Peters-Baker dropped those charges after Finn was found guilty. She said the problem was more with his leadership than with the organization.