Bishop Indicted: A First For The Abuse Scandal

A grand jury has indicted the Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City for failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. Bishop Robert Finn has pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of not reporting to police that he had seen child pornography on a priest's computer. It's the first time a bishop has been indicted since the church abuse scandal became public 25 years ago. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

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A Roman Catholic bishop in Kansas City has been indicted, Bishop Robert Finn and the Kansas City St. Joseph Diocese also named in the indictment are denying a charge that Bishop Finn knew one of his priests might be abusing children and failed to tell police. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, BYLINE: The story begins with Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest who used to spend long hours at St. Patrick's School even though he was not a teacher. Back in 2010, the principal of the school, Julie Hess, complained to diocesan officials that the priest was behaving inappropriately with children. David Clossey, the executive director of the victims rights group SNAP, says the allegations were shocking. The principal said Ratigan would put young girls in his lap and he'd massage their backs.

DAVID CLOSSEY: He would put candy in his pants and go into parochial schools and ask children to fish around in his pockets to find the candy.

HAGERTY: Principal Hess detailed the complaints in a memo in May 2010, and gave it to the vicar general of the diocese. The vicar general spoke to Ratigan about setting boundaries with children and then gave Robert Bishop Finn a verbal summary of the letter and his meeting with the priest. Then came the photographs. A computer technician discovered the photos on Ratigan's computer in December 2010 and turned them over to the diocese, but the indictment says, Finn and the diocese did nothing. Again, David Clossey.

CLOSSEY: Bishop Finn is accused of sitting on hundreds and hundreds of inappropriate child photos, at least some of which prosecutors believe constitute child porn, for at least five months while not supervising the priest who took those photos.

HAGERTY: The prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, says that after seeing the photos, Bishop Finn should have suspected child abuse and reported it to the police, as is required under Missouri law. Now a grand jury has criminally charged Finn and the diocese for failing to report to authorities.

For his part, Finn says he has cooperated fully with prosecutors. The diocese declined an interview but it said in a statement that Bishop Finn has given hours of testimony before the grand jury and handed over documents.

David Clossey says that even though the charge is a misdemeanor, he believes that it will echo through the entire Catholic Church.

CLOSSEY: Bishop Finn faces potentially up to a year in jail. And there hasn't been a single member of American Catholic hierarchy who has spent even a day behind bars.

HAGERTY: He hopes that this charge will deter bishops from thinking about covering up for those suspected of abuse. And he hopes it will encourage prosecutors to target both abusers and their superiors. For its part, the Kansas City diocese says it has taken an array of steps to protect children from abusers. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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