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Frank Cocozzelli mentioned yesterday that Pope Francis has a chance to put his money where his mouth is regarding child abuse by priests and give Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City his walking papers for his failure to report suspected child abuse by one of his priests in a timely manner. Lest anyone think that this may be too drastic, a healthy amount of digging reveals that the spiritual leader of northwestern Missouri's Catholics knew or should have known about that priest's behavior--and yet sat on his hands until the issue was forced on him.
The story begins on May 19, 2010, when Julie Hess, principal of St. Patrick Catholic School, wrote Finn to report concerns that her boss, Father Shawn Ratigan, was acting inappropriately around children. Among the incidents that raised eyebrows from parents and teachers were Ratigan allowing girls to sit on his lap, swinging a girl over his head while she was wearing her uniform skirt, tossing a girl over his head even though she was wearing a two-piece swimsuit and letting kids get candy out of his pants pockets. Additionally, several parents accompanying a Brownie troop to Ratigan's house reported seeing a pair of girl's panties in a planter.
Fast forward to December 16, 2010, when a diocese IT specialist found some extremely graphic images of little girls on Ratigan's laptop. According to a timeline of the case from the Wichita Eagle, diocese IT director Julie Creech took one look at the pictures and told Vicar General Robert Murphy (the diocese's second-in-command) to call the police. When Ratigan learned what had happened, he tried to commit suicide by turning on his motorcycle in his closed garage.
What did Finn do next? He simply ordered Ratigan to move to a convent and stay away from children. But according to the New York Times, Finn allowed Ratigan to attend children's parties, stayed with parishoners over weekends and even presided over a girl's First Communion. During that time, he continued to take pictures of another girl. When Murphy saw those pictures in May 2011, he alerted police. During that time, the kids at St. Patrick were told Ratigan was recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning. The first they heard that anything was wrong was when his arrest flashed across local media. Last year, Ratigan pleaded guilty to five federal counts of possession of child porn; last week he was sentenced to 50 years in prison--all but assuring he will die in prison.
Finn's defense is that he assumed Murphy called the police in December 2010. But that's no defense. According to the Kansas City Star, the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has a long and sordid history of priests molesting kids. Finn was well aware of this when he came to Kansas City in 2005. Even without that to consider, wouldn't you think that he would have made sure this was reported? Apparently he didn't, if he found it OK to let Ratigan go to children's parties.
From where I sit, Finn looks almost as bad as Graham Spanier. To my mind, his guilty plea last September is a tacit admission that he is morally unfit to be dogcatcher, let alone a bishop. Finn needs to go--and if he doesn't go on his own, Francis needs to make him leave.