By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
KANSAS CITY — Misdemeanor charges against the Diocese and Bishop Robert Finn alleging failure to report suspicion of child abuse with regard to Shawn Ratigan were resolved at a bench trial Sept. 6. The Diocese and Bishop Finn had each faced two identical misdemeanor charges covering two time periods between the discovery of disturbing photos on Shawn Ratigan’s laptop in December 2010 and his arrest in May 2011.
At the bench trial, attorneys for defendants and the State presented stipulated testimony to Jackson County Circuit Judge John M. Torrence and submitted the matter for his judgment rather than conducting a jury trial. In submitting stipulated testimony, defendants and the State agree to what witnesses would have testified at a jury trial based on prior interviews by law enforcement or other sworn testimony. A bench trial based on a stipulation of testimony avoided the need for live testimony from Diocesan employees, parishioners, victims and their families in what otherwise would have been a lengthy and emotionally difficult trial for all.
Bishop Finn pled not guilty to the charges against him. After recessing to consider the submitted testimony, Judge Torrence found Bishop Finn guilty of one misdemeanor charge and acquitted him of the other. Both misdemeanor charges against the Diocese were then dismissed by prosecutors.
Judge Torrence entered a suspended imposition of sentence for Bishop Finn giving him two years’ probation with certain conditions. Under a suspended imposition of sentence, no conviction under Missouri law occurs if probation terms are met.
“I am pleased and grateful that the prosecutor and court have allowed this matter to be concluded,” Bishop Finn told the Court. “The protection of children is paramount. Sexual abuse of any kind will not be tolerated. I truly regret and am sorry for the hurt that these events have caused.”
Probation terms require Bishop Finn to ensure diocesan administrative staff and clergy are trained in Missouri mandated reporter requirements. Diocesan administrative staff must also receive training in what constitutes child pornography and child obscenity and how to identify signs of grooming behavior.
Other terms including the provision of counseling to victims of child sexual abuse and continuing the work of the diocesan Ombudsman and Office of Child and Youth Protection are already being performed by the Diocese, according to diocesan Chancellor Jude Huntz. Bishop Finn is committed to faithfully carrying out the probation terms, Huntz said. At Bishop Finn’s direction and with his full support, Huntz, the Ombudsman and the Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection have already begun work to ensure that the terms of probation are fully met and that all aspects of training for mandated reporting are in place for the protection of children now and in the future.