Prosecutor Wants New Charge against Bishop Finn, Diocese in Failure to Report Child Abuse Case
By Mark Morris
Kansas City Star
May 7, 2012
Jackson County prosecutors want to add additional misdemeanor criminal charges against Bishop Robert Finn and the diocese he serves.
The charge, failure to report suspicions of child abuse, is the same as the bishop and diocese already face for their alleged mismanagement of a priest now facing state and federal child pornography charges.
Prosecutors also have asked a judge to approve a massive request for records from the diocese's so-called "secret archive" detailing the diocese's responses to child abuse allegations both before and after Finn began serving in Kansas City in May 2004.
Lawyer Gerald Handley, who represents Finn, said Monday that the bishop's attorneys were pondering how to respond to the new filings, which prosecutors put into the record on Friday afternoon.
"We understood they were contemplating filing additional charges," Handley said. "We will review the filings that have been made and determine the appropriate response."
A spokeswoman for the diocese declined comment, saying the church's lawyers have not yet seen paperwork.
Both Finn and the diocese have denied any wrongdoing. Finn's lawyers have argued that the bishop had no legal duty to report child abuse suspicions because he depended on his vicar general, Msgr. Robert Murphy, to serve as the diocese's "designated reporter."
The proposed new charges, which Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence still must approve, would add an additional count of failure to report suspicions of child abuse to those that Finn and the diocese already face.
A grand jury in October charged each with one misdemeanor failure to report charge related to how they handled the Rev. Shawn Ratigan between December 2010 and May 2011.
During that period diocesan leaders learned of dozens of lewd photos of young girls on Ratigan's laptop computer. Ratigan attempted suicide after the discovery and received medical treatment and a psychological examination. Finn subsequently stripped the priest of his duties at a Northland parish, assigned him to an Independence mission house and ordered him to have no contact with children.
Murphy reported Ratigan to authorities in May 2011 after he violated the restrictions Finn placed on him.
The new charges would not allege any new facts about conduct attributable to either Finn or the diocese. Rather, the new charges would subdivide the existing charges into two distinct periods in which Finn and the diocese allegedly should have reported Ratigan to state child abuse and neglect investigators.
The first period would cover Dec. 17, 2010, to Feb. 10, 2011, when the church learned of the photographs, Ratigan attempted suicide and he was sent for medical treatment.
The second period would begin on Feb. 11, 2011, the date Finn sent Ratigan a letter outlining restrictions on his conduct and May 18, after Murphy notified police.
"This simply divides the original charge into two separate counts," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a written statement. "This is the best approach going into trial."
The new charges could be one step in answering defense concerns that the previous charges were too vague. In earlier court filings, defense lawyers complained that Missouri law was unconstitutionally vague because it did not adequately define how quickly a mandated reporter needed to "immediately report" child abuse suspicions under the law.
Although the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the law is clear enough to the average person, appeals courts generally like charges to be as specific as possible.
Prosecutors also want the diocese to turn over a broad swath of records detailing how it has handled child abuse allegations received since Finn was ordained coadjutor bishop on May 3, 2004. Those records would include:
• All documents related to reports of child abuse received since May 2004, including records of the diocesan response team and Independent Review Board.
• Reports of prior concerns alleged against perpetrators mentioned in those post-2004 records.
• And all other relevant records kept in the diocese's "secret archives," as so described in canon law.
According to church law, the most sensitive documents of a diocese are to be kept in a secret archive, which can be as simple as a locked safe or a cabinet.
According to church law, those records are to be reviewed, and some purged, annually.
"Each year documents of criminal cases in matters of morals, in which the accused parties have died or ten years have elapsed from the condemnatory sentence, are to be destroyed," the law reads. "A brief summary of what occurred along with the text of the definitive sentence is to be retained."
The request for records — usually called "discovery" in legal parlance — demands specific information from diocesan records about possible child abuse allegations against 10 priests and monks, eight of whom already have been sued in civil actions against the diocese or their religious orders.
Prosecutors want to see the diocese's training records for those covered under the state's mandated reporter law, including who has taken the training.
And finally, prosecutors want to see all statements and deposition transcripts it gathered during a report on the Ratigan case prepared last summer at the church's behest by former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves.
Baker asked Torrence to schedule a hearing so she can make her case to have that discovered. The judge has not yet ruled on when, or if, that will be.