Liberty, MO. – The Bishop of the Kansas City- St. Joseph Diocese stepped away from criminal prosecution of charges today as he agreed to face monthly questioning of a prosecutor for the next five years. A conviction on the misdemeanor charge alleging mishandling of a child pornography case carried a one year penalty.
Clay County Prosecutor Dan White says he will pose pointed questions to Bishop Robert Finn every month for the next half-decade. These will be, says White, questions about any situations of child sexual misconduct by clergy or people who work for the Diocese. And White says he, the prosecutor, will decide whether police should be called in any situation that warrants.
Describing his decision to set aside prosecution in favor of diversion, White said-- "had we not had this agreement, I have the charge but do I have a conviction based upon the evidence I had?"
White says there are other intangibles to going ahead with prosecution-- " and what do you get with that conviction, what would a judge or jury decide to do the bishop, put him in jail for a year, fine him? I think I get a lot more with this agreement."
According to the prosecutor other provisions of the diversion agreement require the Bishop to go to each parish in Clay County, describe programs to protect children from sex abuse and take the Diocese's head of youth protection and an ombudsman with him.
A Clay County grand jury earlier in the day indicted a priest, Shawn Ratigan on charges of possessing child pornography. They are similar to earlier allegations but simplify the court process by eliminating requirement for a preliminary hearing.
The delay of months in reporting the Ratigan suspicions led to filing the original misdemeanor charges against Bishop Finn and the Diocese.
Ratigan is jailed pending trial on a 13 count federal grand jury indictment. Allegations include producing or attempting production of child pornography.
The charge against a Catholic Church leader of Finn's standing was unprecedented. There are similar charges pending in Jackson County, Missouri against Finn and the Diocese. Both have entered not guilty pleas.
A statement from the Diocese said, quoting Robert Finn, that he will "do all within my power not only to satisfy this agreement but also ensure welfare and safety of all children under our care."