Confession, Not Prosecution, For Bishop Who Let Alleged Abusive Priest Off the Hook

Ms. Blog readers will recall the recent indictment of Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City (Mo.)-St. Joseph’s Catholic diocese, making him the most superior member of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. to be charged with a crime related to abuse by priests. The misdemeanor charge against Finn is that he failed to report that a priest under his jurisdiction, Shawn Ratigan, had pornographic pictures of young girls on his computer.

But that news has now been followed by this: Bishop Finn has made a pact with the prosecuting attorney of Clay County, Mo., Daniel White, in an effort to avoid prosecution on the misdemeanor or face further charges.

The New York Times reported that, for the next five years, Bishop Finn will meet on a monthly basis with a county prosecutor to report all and any suspicious activity regarding priests and sexual abuse. Terms of the contract state that if the bishop breaks the contract of this diversion program, the misdemeanor charges could be imposed.

Finn was first indicted in Jackson County, next door to Clay, but grand juries in both counties were looking at the case because Ratigan allegedly took sexually explicit photographs of girls in both areas. Finn will not be charged in Jackson County now because of the Clay County deal. As part of the agreement, Finn will also help educate parishioners on procedures for reporting suspicious priests and introduce them to church leaders responsible for child safety.

Deal-maker White claimed that the agreement would build accountability and make children safer, adding that the grand jury investigation had shown “good people were having difficulty making good choices.”

Whether he’s a good person or not, Finn does not have a good track record for keeping his word about protecting parishioners from abusive priests, as The New York Times pointed out:

This is not the first time the diocese agreed to extra safeguards intended to ensure that allegations of abuse did not go unreported. Some of those, which were put in place as part of a settlement with abuse victims in 2008, were ignored in the case of Father Ratigan.

And news of the deal certainly did not soothe those who have first-hand experience of priest abuse. Peter Isley, a board member of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), told the Kansas City Star:

Finn has now done here what bishops have almost always done—make any promises, payment or plea deal to avoid having to face tough questions in open court about their disgraceful and irresponsible deception. Catholics, citizens and children need and deserve the truth. The truth surfaces in court. That’s what bishops work overtime to avoid. And that’s what Finn has achieved here—he’s taken the cheap, easy, convenient way out, avoiding real scrutiny and concealing damaging misdeeds.

Doesn’t this deal sound a lot like Catholic confession reversed, with the priest confessing to the prosecutor in order to receive absolution? Does it really serve justice and keep children safer? Tell us what you think.

Photo by flickr user Joelk75 under Creative Commons 2.0


  1. He’s already *required by law* to report any knowledge of abuse. This deal is simply an agreement to let him off the hook for violating that requirement in exchange for following the requirement he has already violated and is already required to follow.

    Is there any law a Christian is actually required to obey?

  2. Sister Maureen Paul Turlish says:

    Philadelphia Daily News – February 9, 2012



    FOR the first time in this country, a high-ranking clergyman – Msgr. William Lynn, the former vicar of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – will be tried on criminal charges for putting children in danger because of his “alleged” mishandling of priests known or credibly accused of the sexual exploitation of children.

    No bishop or high-ranking church official in the United States has ever been held criminally responsible for facilitating or enabling the sexual exploitation of a child, but that is about to change with the March opening of Lynn’s criminal trial.

    It remains to be seen, however, what effect Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua’s death will have on the admissibility of information contained in testimony videotaped in preparation for the trial.

    Testimony from Bevilacqua’s 10 grand jury appearances relating to the sexual abuse of children and the subsequent cover-up continue to be under seal.

    What church officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have done and what they have failed to do over decades has enabled and facilitated the sexual exploitation of untold numbers of children, and that is only the beginning of the harm inflicted on the innocent.

    Remember, this is the archdiocese that has vehemently denied that it even had a problem with priests sexually exploiting children within its ranks when the magnitude of the sexual abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston was exposed by the Boston Globe.

    Nor has the Archdiocese of Philadelphia been able to get out in front of its sexual-abuse cover-up scandal: not between 2002 and 2005, when it denied that it had any problems at all; not in 2005, when the first Philadelphia grand jury report came out and it took 76 pages for Stradley, Ronon, Stevens & Young, L.L.P., to help the Archdiocese put its foot in its mouth while confirming what many had suspected for years; and not in 2011, when the second grand jury report documented how little had been done in response to the recommendations made in the 2005 report.

    On Jan. 26, Judge M. Teresa Sarmina told the Archdiocese “to be ready March 26, the first day of Lynn’s conspiracy and child-endangerment trial, to turn over what could be hundreds or thousands of private records detailing Lynn’s communications with church lawyers about sex-abuse claims between 1992 and 2004, when he was secretary for clergy.”

    The possible exposure of the depth and breadth of the hierarchy’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese may very well eclipse that of the Boston Archdiocese in 2002.

    Should Sarmina, on making her decision, have immediately sent officers of the court armed with search warrants and security personnel to the offices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to secure all related records?

    Documents have been destroyed while some have gone missing in other dioceses in this country. The possibility that it could happen here cannot be ruled out.
    Should those who have failed so miserably and learned so little since 2002 now be trusted to do the right thing and follow Sarmina’s orders?

    Remember, altruism was never the basis for the decisions made by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002.

    Shielding those who commit the heinous crime of sexually exploiting children, who enable others to do so and then who are complicit in covering up such “prior bad acts” is a matter for the criminal-justice system because it is society’s responsibility to protect those who could not protect themselves.
    Maureen Paul Turlish is a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, an educator and an advocate for victims of childhood sexual abuse and legislative reform. She has taught in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and writes from New Castle, Delaware.

  3. Gabe Azzaro says:

    Bishop Finn isn’t going to honor this any more than he has honored his “promises” in the past. All he has to do is go and report that there is nothing to report and he’s off the hook. Of course it’s not fair or just for those who have been and STILL ARE BEING sexually abused by priests and religious. But, since when has the Catholic church been about justice or protection when it comes to the victims of their priests?

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