A Jackson County judge was scheduled Tuesday to consider motions to dismiss a misdemeanor charge against a Roman Catholic bishop in Kansas City who is accused of violating Missouri's mandatory reporter law.
Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged last year with failing to report to the Missouri Children's Division hundreds of photos of young children found on the laptop computer of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, including a series that showed the exposed genitals of a girl believed to be 3 or 4 years old.
Finn is the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic official to be accused of shielding an abusive priest, and a conviction could send shock waves through a church hierarchy unaccustomed to being held legally accountable for failing to report suspected sexual abuse by clergy members.
Finn's attorneys have filed motions to dismiss the charge, saying Missouri's mandatory reporter law is unconstitutionally vague. They also want the case dismissed because they said prosecutors had failed to state an offense committed by the bishop.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the state Supreme Court has already ruled that the mandatory reporter law meets constitutional requirements.
Finn has acknowledged that he was told about the images on Ratigan's computer in December 2010, several months before the diocese turned over a disk containing the photos to local police. The bishop also has acknowledged that a parish principal raised concerns about Ratigan's behavior around children in May 2010, half a year before the photos were found.
Instead of ordering the photos to be turned over to police, or telling the Children's Division about the pictures, Finn sent Ratigan out of state for a psychiatric evaluation. When Ratigan returned to Missouri, Finn sent him to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist, where he would say Mass for the sisters and be away from children.
The diocese went to police with the photos last May after the church received reports that Ratigan had violated orders from the diocese to stay away from children.
Ratigan was charged last May with three state child pornography counts, and in June with 13 federal counts of producing, possessing and attempting to produce child porn. He has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed.