U.S. Catholic bishop charged in alleged porn cover-up
KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - Kansas City's Roman Catholic bishop has been charged with failing to promptly report pornography on a priest's computer, prosecutors said, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. church official charged in long-running clergy abuse scandals.
Prosecutors in Jackson County, Missouri, said on Friday that Bishop Robert Finn, 58, became aware of child pornography images on the laptop computer of Reverend Shawn Ratigan in December 2010 but failed to appropriately notify police or state child abuse authorities for five months.
Finn's lawyer entered a not guilty plea in court on Friday and the bishop issued a statement saying he would fight the misdemeanor charge -- which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine -- "with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense."
The diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, was also charged with the same misdemeanor.
"This case is about protecting children. I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said, adding a grand jury handed up the charges October 6.
Finn, appointed to head the diocese in 2005, had been under fire over the Ratigan case and he and other church officials have testified before the grand jury. Ratigan faces charges of possessing child pornography after hundreds of images of naked children were found on his laptop computer.
"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," Finn said.
Earlier this year, the diocese hired former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate, and his report last month concluded that diocese leaders "failed to follow their own policies and procedures" in Ratigan's case.
The diocese over the years has faced lawsuits from scores of people who claimed to be sexually abused by priests, mostly in the 1950s through early 1970s. Bishops have been faulted by victims and their lawyers for failing to take action to stop the abuse and to remove priests.
The group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said numerous officials in Kansas City, and elsewhere, have kept abuse cases secret.
"We believe others on the church payroll also concealed crimes, misled parishioners and endangered kids," SNAP director Barbara Dorris said in a statement.
The clergy sex abuse scandal broke in the Boston diocese more than a decade ago and has since spread around the world.
Previously, no American bishop has been charged with covering up such crimes, though numerous lawsuits have alleged high-up church officials concealed abuses and, in some cases, transferred offending priests to unsuspecting parishes.
A grand jury in Philadelphia in February indicted three priests, a church teacher and Monsignor William Lynn, who oversaw priests in the diocese, the first such indictment of a senior U.S. church official.
In 2003, an Ohio judge accepted a no contest plea on behalf of the Cincinnati diocese from Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and levied the maximum $10,000 fine for five misdemeanor counts of failing to report a felony. That abuse occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, prior to Pilarczyk becoming bishop.
Similarly, trials were avoided in the dioceses of Phoenix, Arizona, and Manchester, New Hampshire, where bishops signed agreements with prosecutors admitting cover-ups.
In Kansas City, Graves' report said the church's second-in-command Vicar General Robert Murphy made a superficial investigation of Ratigan's computer images and did not promptly report them to a special review board that advises Finn. Instead, Murphy described one of the photos over the phone "in a neutral manner" with a board member, who is a police captain, the report said.
In a statement issued in June, Finn said he learned about pictures of an unclothed child on Ratigan's computer in December 2010 and consulted legal counsel and a Kansas City police officer, who was the review board member. The officer said the pictures did not sound like pornography, but he said later he did not actually see the pictures.
The Graves report said that while Finn did not know as much as Murphy about the Ratigan case he should have investigated it more fully instead of trusting Ratigan to comply with restrictions about his interactions with children.
Finn apologized to parishioners of the diocese for failing to do more to detect and report alleged abuses by Ratigan, accepting "full responsibility for these failures."
(Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)
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