The case of Robert Finn, a Catholic bishop who has been charged with covering up suspected child abuse, is the first of its kind in America
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 15 October 2011 06.44 BST
A bishop has become the highest-ranking US Catholic official indicted on a charge of failing to protect children after he and his diocese waited five months to tell police about hundreds of images of child pornography discovered on a priest’s computer.
Bishop Robert Finn, the first US bishop criminally charged with sheltering an abusive clergyman, and the Kansas City-St Joseph Catholic Diocese have pleaded not guilty on one count each of failing to report suspected child abuse.
Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Finn and the diocese were required under state law to report the discovery to police because the images gave them reason to believe a child had been abused.
“Now that the grand jury investigation has resulted in this indictment, my office will pursue this case vigorously,” Baker said. “I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims.”
The indictment, handed down 6 October but sealed because Finn was out of the country, says the bishop failed to report suspicions against the priest from 16 December, 2010, when the photos were discovered, to 11 May, 2011, when the diocese turned them over to police.
Finn denied any wrongdoing in a statement on Friday and said he had begun work to overhaul the diocese’s reporting policies and act on key findings of a diocese-commissioned investigation into its practices.
“Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph,” said Finn. “For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defence.”
Finn faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of the misdemeanour. The diocese also faces a $1,000 fine.
After the Catholic sex abuse scandal erupted in 2002, grand juries in several regions reviewed how bishops handled claims against priests. However, most of the allegations were decades old and far beyond the statute of limitations.
Until Finn was indicted, no US Catholic bishop had been criminally charged over how he responded to abuse claims, although some bishops had struck deals with local authorities to avoid prosecution against their dioceses.
A former secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Monsignor William Lynn, was charged in February with child endangerment. A grand jury had released a report accusing the archdiocese of keeping some credibly accused clergy in church jobs where they had access to children. Lynn has pleaded not guilty.
The grand jury report in Philadelphia and the case in Kansas City have raised questions about how closely other dioceses are following the national discipline policy the US bishops adopted in 2002. Church leaders had promised to remove all credibly accused clergy from church work.