KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph have been indicted with by a Jackson Co. grand jury.
Both parties were charged with the two misdemeanor counts of "Failure of Mandated Reporter to Report" in relation to the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan.
Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Bakers said the charges are not about the Catholic faith, they're about protecting children.
"The defendant was a mandated reporter, and had reasonable cause to suspect a child may be subject to abuse," said Peters Baker
It is the first time that a U.S. bishop has been indicted in connection to such a case.
The indictment said that Diocese and Finn had "reasonable cause to suspect that a child may be subjected to abuse due to: previous knowledge of concerns regarding Fr. Ratigan and children; the discovery of hundreds of photographs of children on Fr. Ratigan's laptop, including a child's naked vagina, upskirt images and other images focused on the crotch; and violations of restrictions on Father Ratigan."
The charges were filed on October 6, 2011.
According to a news release from the diocese, "Jean Paul Bradshaw and Tom Bath, counsel for the diocese, entered a plea of not guilty for the diocese. According to Gerald Handley and J.R. Hobbs, counsel for Bishop Finn, the bishop also entered a plea of not guilty."
Handley, Finn's attorney, said in the release that "Bishop Finn denies any criminal wrongdoing and has cooperated at all stages with law enforcement, the grand jury, the prosecutor's office, and the Graves Commission. We will continue our efforts to resolve this matter."
Finn released the following statement:
"Months ago after the arrest of Shawn Ratigan, I pledged the complete cooperation of the diocese and accountability to law enforcement. We have carried this out faithfully. Diocesan staff and I have given hours of testimony before grand juries, delivered documents, and answered questions fully.
"More importantly, to address the issues that led to this crisis, I reinforced and expanded diocesan procedures. We added the position of ombudsman, effectively moving the ‘gatekeeper function' outside the Chancery and under the authority of an independent public liaison, a skilled and experienced former prosecutor. I commissioned the Graves Report to accomplish a full independent investigation of the policies and events that led to this crisis. I ordered the report to be published in its entirety for the sake of full transparency.
" Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph. For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.
" I ask the prayerful support and unity of our priests, our people, the parishes, and the Catholic institutions. With continued dedication, we will persevere in the many good works that are the hallmark of the faithful people of the diocese throughout its 27 counties and nearly 150-year heritage. With ever stronger determination, we will form, teach, and protect children and care for the spiritual and material needs of people who look daily to the diocese for assistance.
" With deep faith, we will weather this storm and never cease to fulfill our mission, even in moments of adversity."
Finn, 58, has led the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph since May of 2005 as the sixth bishop of the diocese. Prior to that, Finn served as a Catholic priest for 26 years.
He graduated from St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, Cardinal Glennon College, North American College in Rome and St. Louis University finishing with Master's degrees in Theology and Education Administration.
Finn has a number of roles beyond just leading the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph. He is the consultant to the Pro-Life Secretariat and the Bishops Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He also is president of the Institute on Religious Life and a board member of the John Paul II Institute for Stem Cell Research.
Finn's troubles began in 2008 when a group of 47 people alleged clergy within the diocese sexually abused them. The allegations also included that church leaders had knowledge of the abuse but did not report it or act on it. Victims alleged cover-ups on the part of Finn and the other Catholic leaders.
The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph settled with that group for $10 million dollars. Beyond the monetary commitment, the diocese agreed to 19 promises to reform the way abuse allegations are reported, processed and handled.
That suit named at 10 clergy members. The allegations stem from events that occurred
between the 1950s and the 1980s.
Attorney Rebecca Randles, a co-counselor on the case broke down the claims against each member of the clergy: Bishop Joseph Hart (6), Msgr. Thomas O'Brien (24), Fr. Thomas Reardon (22), Fr. Hugh Monahan (8), Fr. John Tulipana (4), Fr. Francis McGlynn (3), Fr. Thomas Ward (1), Brother Earl Johnson (1), Fr. James Lawbaugh (1) and Fr. Baskett (1).
Then, three years after that settlement was reached, new allegations surfaced. In May, Finn admitted he failed to properly handle concerns raised in 2010 regarding the actions of one of his priests . Police investigations uncovered a letter written from the St. Patrick Catholic School principal detailing questionable behavior on the part of Father Shawn Ratigan.
Then, in December, alleged pornographic pictures were found on Ratigan's computer . Police report that a computer specialist told diocesan leaders about the pictures when he returned the computer to them.
A day later, Ratigan attempted to commit suicide. After he was treated in a hospital for injuries he sustained due to exhaust fumes, Finn reassigned Ratigan to the Convent of Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist.
It wasn't until May that Finn and the diocese reported the questionable pictures to Kansas City, Missouri police. An investigation ensued and even more pictures were found. Ratigan was arrested and charged locally and federally with several child pornography crimes .
The details of the timeline slowly surfaced. Once made public, Finn apologized to local Catholics and the community for not handling the allegations appropriately.
The embattled bishop took heat from fellow Catholics and community members who were outraged about the diocese's response. In reaction to the public outcry, Finn put forth a five-point plan to reform the way abuse reports are handled by the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
Also, former United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri Todd P. Graves conducted an independent review on the diocesan abuse reporting procedures and the specific case of Shawn Ratigan. The results were made available to the public in September.
In the meantime, another handful of victims have filed lawsuits against clergy members, including Father Michael Tierney. Also, three civil lawsuits have been filed by parents who allege Ratigan took unlawful pictures of their children.
Attorneys for the diocese are defending Tierney. However, the diocese has told NBC Action News on a number of occasions that they are not representing Ratigan in any way.
One life-long member of the diocese, Jeff Weis, conducted his own survey about the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph and Bishop Robert Finn. He created the survey in response to the outcry in the community about the alleged abuse and then subsequent cover-ups on the part of diocesan leaders.
SNAP, the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, continues to put pressure on Finn and the diocese to increase the ways they protect children. The group is made up of adults were abused by clergy as children.
On Thursday, October 6, 2011, SNAP filed a law suit against Finn saying he breached a contract with the 47 victims involved in the 2008 settlement. They are alleging Finn didn't keep up his end of the bargain in the 19 non-monetary commitments he signed off on in the2008 settlement. One of the commitments was to report abuse allegations to police. Specifically, the group of SNAP members is pointing to the fact that the diocese did not report Ratigan's questionable pictures to police in December when they were originally found.
To that end, the diocese has repeatedly stood by the actions of Monsignor Robert Murphy. Upon learning about the questionable photos, he reported the pictures to a police officer on the Independent Review Board. That officer told Murphy the pictures were not pornographic without ever laying eyes on the pictures.
Previous Coverage of Bishop Finn
Bishop Finn goes in front of grand jury in Jackson County - Sept. 16, 2011
Bishop under fire for way he handled Ratigan case - Sept. 9, 2011
Report finds flaws in KC diocese abuse response - Sept. 1, 2011
Catholics sounding off about recent scandal in online survey - July 28, 2011
Kansas City organization asks for response from Bishop Finn - June 8, 2011