Mo. judge hears motions in case against bishop
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Jackson County judge said Tuesday he hopes to rule on motions by the end of next week in a misdemeanor case involving the highest-ranking U.S. Roman Catholic official accused of shielding an abusive priest.
Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph each are charged with one count of failure to report suspected child abuse to the state. Finn's attorneys have asked to have his case dismissed, contending he was not the diocese's mandatory reporting agent.
Defense attorney J.R. Hobbs also asked Circuit Judge John Torrence on Tuesday to sever the cases so they can be tried separately.
The charges came after a computer technician found hundreds of images of small children on the laptop computer of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, many of which were focused on the crotch areas of the clothed children. One series showed the exposed genitals of a girl believed to be 3 or 4 years old.
Ratigan was charged with three state child pornography counts last May. Then, in June, he was charged with 13 federal counts of producing, possessing and attempting to produce child porn. He has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed.
Finn has acknowledged that he was told about the images on Ratigan's computer in December 2010, several months before the diocese turned over a disk containing the photos to local police. The bishop also has acknowledged that a parish principal raised concerns about Ratigan's behavior around children in May 2010, half a year before the photos were found.
Instead of ordering the photos to be turned over to police, or telling the Children's Division about the pictures, Finn sent Ratigan out of state for a psychiatric evaluation. When the priest returned to Missouri, Finn sent him to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, where he would say Mass for the sisters and be away from children.
The diocese went to police with the photos last May after the church received reports that Ratigan had violated orders from the diocese to stay away from children.
Finn claims Vicar General Robert Murphy and a diocese review board — not the bishop — were responsible for reporting suspected images of child pornography to the state.
"Bishop Finn has no statutory duty to report because he was not the diocese's designated agent," Hobbs said, adding later that "it's important to point out that the bishop is not a member of the response team."
Finn sat silently as attorneys on both sides made their cases, and after the hearing he was ushered past a throng of reporters and television cameras waiting outside the courthouse.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker insisted that as the diocese's top manager, Finn not only was a mandatory reporter, but he acknowledged as much before a grand jury.
Experts say a criminal conviction against Finn could send shock waves through a church hierarchy unaccustomed to being held legally accountable for failing to report suspected sexual abuse by clergy members.
Much of Finn's defense relies on establishing Murphy as the diocese's mandatory reporter who dropped the ball after concerns about Ratigan's behavior were raised in May 2010, and seven months later when the photos were found on the priest's computer.
"The evidence does not support that Murphy was the designated agent for the diocese," Peters Baker said.
She added that Finn took charge in dealing with Ratigan after Ratigan tried to commit suicide in his garage. The suicide attempt came a day after the photos were found on the priest's computer.
The prosecutor also noted that the review board created to investigate claims of child sexual abuse was never activated in the Ratigan case.
"If it would have been activated, this would have been a different case," Peters Baker said.
Hobbs and other attorneys representing Finn declined to comment after the hearing, as did a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.