Mark Morris | Sex Abuse Cases May See Jury Trial

By Mark Morris
Kansas City Star
June 15, 2012

A courts reporter usually can predict with uncanny accuracy that a criminal defendant will plead guilty before trial.

Itís no trick because most of them do.

Thatís not a bad thing. Already deliberate, our courts would grind to a standstill if every burglary defendant insisted on going to trial.

But recent developments in the criminal cases against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and its clerics suggest that theyíre likely headed for trials in August and September.

Like teachers cleaning their classrooms before summer vacation, lawyers involved in the cases against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, Bishop Robert Finn and the diocese have used the late spring to tidy up legal issues in ways that point to trials rather than pleas or other accommodations.

A lawyer representing Ratigan, accused of producing child pornography, recently received an August trial date. For months, the case appeared to be headed for a plea as deadlines for pre-trial motions passed without filings.

But Ratigan now appears headed to trial. Federal prosecutors have signaled that they want a life sentence, so he loses nothing by taking his case to a jury.

Jackson County prosecutors pursuing charges against the bishop and the diocese for allegedly not reporting Ratigan to child welfare authorities recently moved to add counts against both. For legal reasons too arid to describe here, this move boils down to framing up the allegations clearly for jurors.

Prosecutors generally donít fuss over the charges this way if they think pleas or diversion agreements are realistically on the horizon. So a September trial looks likely there as well.

And in a quiet announcement just before the Memorial Day weekend, Finn announced that he had appointed a former vicar general to make independent legal decisions for the diocese on the criminal case. This is similar to a husband and wife agreeing to get their own lawyers to represent their separate legal interests.

I wonít presume to analyze the theological implications, if any, of a bishop putting some daylight between his interests and those of his diocese. But the announcement recognized that theyíre not identical.

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A few weeks back I wrote about being a Methodist covering the troubles of the Roman Catholic Church and asked readers for book suggestions to help give me context. Iím working through a long and excellent list and I appreciate that.

And thanks to the men who invited me to Mass and for the invigorating discussion afterward. We scarcely touched on the troubles, and that was excellent too.

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








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