KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City-St. Joseph Catholic Diocese and its bishop were charged Friday with not telling police about pornographic images discovered on computer used by a priest who now faces several child pornography charges.
Bishop Robert Finn pleaded not guilty to one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Finn and his diocese, which also was charged with one count, had "reasonable cause" to suspect a child had been abused after learning of the images.
The misdemeanor classification "should not diminish the seriousness of the charge," Baker said. "Now that the grand jury investigation has resulted in this indictment, my office will pursue this case vigorously because it is about protecting children. I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims."
Finn has acknowledged that he and other diocese officials knew for five months about hundreds of "disturbing" images of children that were discovered on a computer used by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, but did not take the matter to police.
In a statement issued through the diocese, Finn denied any wrongdoing and said he had begun work to overhaul the diocese's reporting policies and act on the key findings of a diocese-commissioned investigation into its handling of Ratigan's case.
"Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph," said Finn, who officials said was not under arrest. "For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense."
Finn acknowledged earlier this year that St. Patrick's School Principal Julie Hess had more than a year ago raised concerns that Ratigan was behaving inappropriately around children, but that he didn't read her written report until after Ratigan was charged with three state child pornography counts this spring. Ratigan has pleaded not guilty.
In a memo dated May 19, 2010, Hess wrote that several people had complained Ratigan was taking compromising pictures of young children and that he allowed them to sit on his lap and reach into his pocket for candy.
Hess at the time gave the report to Monsignor Robert Murphy, the diocese's vicar general, who spoke with Ratigan about setting boundaries with children and then gave Finn a verbal summary of the letter and his meeting with the priest.
Seven months later, a computer technician working on Ratigan's laptop found hundreds of what he called "disturbing" images of children, most of them fully clothed with the focus on their crotch areas, and a series of pictures of a 2- to 3-year-old girl with her genitals exposed.
The computer was turned over to the diocese, where officials examined the photos and reported them to Murphy. Instead of reporting them to authorities, as required by Missouri's mandatory reporting law, Murphy called a police captain who is a member of the diocese's independent review board and described a single photo of a nude child that was not sexual in nature.
Without viewing the photo, Capt. Rick Smith said he was advised that although such a picture might meet the definition of child pornography, it probably wouldn't be investigated or prosecuted.
A diocese computer technician downloaded materials from Ratigan's computer onto a flash drive and Finn eventually returned the laptop to Ratigan's brother, who destroyed it.
Smith said he was shocked in May when Murphy told him there had been hundreds of photos on Ratigan's laptop, rather than a single image. Smith demanded the computer be turned over to police, but since the computer had been turned over to Ratigan's family, it handed over the flash drive, instead.