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The Kansas City area Catholic Diocese and Bishop Robert Finn face misdemeanor charges for the handling of a priest accused of possessing child pornography. This is the first time a bishop in the United States has faced charges for allegedly protecting an abusive priest. Finn and the diocese deny the allegations. More >>
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn was found guilty of failing to report an abusive priest to state authorities.
A Jackson County judge acquitted him of a second, similar charge. The charges involved different time frames.
Finn, 59, apologized for his actions in court following the judge's decision. He received two years supervised probation, which includes eight conditions. Finn does not face jail time or a fine unless he violates the terms of his probation.
Finn will not appeal the verdict. He said protecting children is paramount and sexual abuse of any kind should not be tolerated.
"I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt these events have caused," Finn said.
He sat stoically as the judge issued his ruling. He was later smiling after court was adjourned.
Judge John Torrence issued the verdict after hearing opening remarks from Finn's attorneys and prosecutors and reviewing documents.
"I hope this ends a chapter of history that has been a long and dark chapter," Torrence said.
Charges were dropped against the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Among the facts stipulated was that a top church leader said Finn was angry when he learned that he had reported Ratigan to police while Finn was out of town in May 2011. Ratigan was arrested within days. A church computer expert testified that Finn was frustrated that Ratigan wouldn't get the help he needed if Ratigan were in prison.
Finn told priests that he "wanted to save Father Ratigan's priesthood" and that Ratigan's problem "was only pornography."
Finn, clergy and diocese administrative staff will have to undergo mandatory training for reporting suspected child abuse. In addition, $10,000 will be put into a fund to pay for sex abuse counseling. Torrence will oversee Finn's probation.
Finn was the top-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to be charged with shielding an abusive priest. The case came to a surprising end after both sides agreed to waive a trial by jury and allow Torrence to reach a decision.
Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said it was very important that Ratigan's victims and their parents did not have to testify in open court or have Ratigan's pictures displayed before jurors.
"The victims in this case have a real win today," she said. "We found today's verdict a real victory."
She said the victims and their families were "absolutely thrilled" with the result.
"We can be assured now that if any allegation of child abuse comes to the attention of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, there will be no hesitation to report it immediately to the proper authorities," Baker said.
Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were each charged with a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse as required under Missouri law. Finn could have faced a maximum sentence of one year and/or a $1,000 fine. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph could have faced up to a $5,000 fine.
The charges stem from the Rev. Shawn Ratigan's child porn case, in which church officials knew about photos on the priest's computer but didn't turn him in for six months. Ratigan pleaded guilty last month in federal court.
A Jackson County grand jury indicted the bishop and diocese last October. Finn and diocese attorneys had denied the allegations and contested the charges.
Torrence acquitted Finn of covering up Ratigan's abuse between December 2010 and February 2011. A computer tech discovered hundreds of pictures of child porn on Ratigan's computer in December 2010. Photographs of little girl's private parts were among the pictures.
According to court documents, the discovery so upset the technician that his hands were shaking so much that he couldn't open the laptop to show the pictures to a church deacon.
Ratigan later tried to commit suicide. In a letter to Finn in February 2011, Ratigan admitted to being addicted to pornography.
Torrence found that Finn was guilty of failing to notify authorities about Ratigan's child porn between February and May 2011.
Attorneys for family members have said Finn allowed Ratigan to have contact with children even after he knew about the damning allegations against the priest, who has not been defrocked.
A trial by judge will minimize the trauma to family members and also result in a shorter trail that minimizes media coverage, a plaintiffs' attorney said.
"When you have a trial in front of a jury, everything is always spoken. Now, there are documents the jury may look at, but by having a bench trial, you can provide deposition testimony and things like that to the judge without necessarily having a witness come live and testify," said Rebecca Randles, the civil attorney representing the victims of Ratigan.
A group that represents those abused by priests said Finn "is smart to 'fast track'" the case in an effort to limit the witnesses "who will testify and expose his deceit and wrongdoing."
"There are babies you know. We are talking about little tiny children, and so not making the children or their parents testify is a good thing because it decreases the trauma to that family," Randles said.
The group, called SNAP, added, "He knows that the more evidence that's presented, the worse he'll look. We suspect Finn has arranged a plea deal so that the extent of his corruption will remain hidden."
KCTV5's Jonathan Carter and Bonyen Lee contributed to this report.
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