(Reuters) - The Catholic Bishop who leads a large Kansas City diocese was found guilty Thursday for failing to alert authorities to a trove of child pornography found on a priest’s computer, becoming the highest-ranking U.S. clergyman convicted in the Roman Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal.
Bishop Robert Finn, 59, was found guilty of one misdemeanor charge of failing to report the wayward priest, Father Shawn Ratigan, to authorities. Ratigan pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges last month and admitted to taking lewd photographs of many young girls.
Finn was acquitted of a second misdemeanor charge.
“I hope this begins a new chapter in the book in this community and other communities and that, truly, children will no longer be subjected to this kind of treatment,” said Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John Torrence, who found Finn guilty.
Torrence sentenced Finn to two years of probation and suspended a sentence that could have amounted to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The case is among a series of prosecutions and investigations of Catholic leaders around the country in the wake of the child sexual abuse scandal that has roiled the church. In July, Monsignor William Lynn was sentenced to up to six years in prison for covering up child sex abuse by priests in Philadelphia.
Finn and several other officials within the diocese became aware of the lewd photos taken by Ratigan in December 2010 when they were discovered on the priest’s laptop computer as it was being repaired.
But even though Ratigan tried to commit suicide and in a suicide note he wrote of his regret for actions with children, Finn did not notify law enforcement, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
Finn sent Ratigan for a mental evaluation and then assigned him to an area mission house, ordering him to stay away from children.
Ratigan ignored Finn’s orders and continued to interact with children and create child pornography. Another diocese official finally reported the situation to police in May 2011.
Following Ratigan’s arrest Finn made a statement to a meeting with other priests that he had “wanted to save (Ratigan‘s) priesthood,” according to stipulations made at trial.
Finn was indicted almost a year ago and was slated to face a jury trial September 24, but agreed to the expedited bench trial earlier this week.
Before he was sentenced Thursday, Finn, clad in black clerical robes, issued an apology.
“The protection of children is paramount. Sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated,” he said. “I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.”
A support group for victims of clergy abuse expressed anger at the “preferential treatment” they said was given Finn.
“Only jail time would have made a real difference here and deterred future horrific cover-ups, anything less will not produce any meaningful reform,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Baker, the prosecutor, said the outcome was “a clear and ringing victory for the victims.”
“We can be assured now that if an allegation of child abuse comes to the attention of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, there will no hesitation to report it immediately to the proper authorities,” she said.
Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Jackie Frank