September 5, 2012

Judge to hear case against KC bishop, diocese

Bill Draper Associated Press
 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The criminal case against the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest is headed to a swift ending after prosecutors and the bishop’s lawyer agreed Wednesday to let a judge — not jurors — decide the case.

Attorneys for Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn and prosecutors will have their case heard by a judge Thursday, weeks ahead of a scheduled Sept. 24 jury trial on misdemeanor charges that Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph failed to report suspected child abuse. The judge is expected to reach a verdict later that 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.

Mike Mansur, spokesman for Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said his boss and attorneys for Finn and the diocese have negotiated a set of stipulated facts that will be presented to Judge John M. Torrence on Thursday.

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

Attorneys for both Finn and the diocese also have argued that the state’s law is unconstitutional.

A computer technician found child pornography on the Rev. Shawn Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010, and reported it to the diocese. 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 was hospitalized but recovered.

Instead of contacting the state Division of Family Services as required by law, 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 child pornography charges, and prosecutors said they will request he spend the rest of his life in prison. A sentencing date has not been set.

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