Bishop’s Lawyers Renew Effort to Dismiss Jackson County Charges

By Mark Morris
Kansas City Star
May 21, 2012

Lawyers representing Catholic Bishop Robert W. Finn have renewed efforts to have misdemeanor charges against him and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph dismissed.

In filings given to a Jackson County judge last week, Finn’s lawyers and those representing the diocese argued that a state law requiring clergy and many others to report suspicions of child abuse is unconstitutionally vague.

Earlier this month, prosecutors asked for permission to add an additional count of failure to report 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.

Ratigan attempted suicide after church leaders learned of dozens of lewd photos of young girls on his laptop computer.

Finn subsequently stripped Ratigan of his duties at a Northland parish and ordered him to have no contact with children.

Finn’s vicar general, Monsignor Robert Murphy, reported Ratigan to authorities in May 2011 after he violated the restrictions Finn placed on him.

Defense lawyers argued in their most recent filings that a law is unconstitutionally vague if it lacks clear standards that bar prosecutors from applying it in an arbitrary manner.

Previously, prosecutors said that they could have eliminated any vagueness question by charging the bishop and the diocese with more than 150 counts each, one for each day they didn’t report Ratigan to child abuse authorities.

But such an admission only demonstrates the law’s vagueness, defense lawyers argued.

“This type of boundless, limitless discretion is unconstitutional, and denies these defendants, and the citizens of this state, the right to be free from arbitrary state action,” the defense filings noted.

Barring dismissal of the charges on constitutional grounds, defense lawyers asked that their clients face one count each and have their actions judged as a “continuing course of conduct,” rather than one for which multiple charges could be sought.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to








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