UPDATE at 3:30 pm: Bishop Robert Finn: Guilty on one of two counts.
On Thursday afternoon, Judge John Torrence convicted Finn on one misdemeanor count of failing to report suspicions of child abuse. He was acquitted on another count.
The highest ranking U.S. Catholic Church official ever to face criminal charges related to child sexual abuse is set to go to trial on Thursday in Jackson County Circuit Court.
The case will be decided by a judge alone, not a jury, and could be over today.
Whose responsibility to alert officials?
Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph face charges of failing to report a priest who they knew had taken hundreds of lewd pictures of children. The bishop and diocese face two misdemeanor counts. Prosecutors say Bishop Finn was responsible for alerting state officials, but didn’t do it until months after finding out about the photographs. Finn’s lawyers say that duty fell to a lower church official. That’s a key point of contention. The priest in question has already pleaded guilty to federal charges of producing child pornography. Many related civil suits are pending.
Bench trial avoids publicity, shields witnesses
Yesterday it came to light that lawyers and prosecutors had agreed to a one-day bench trial. Giving up a jury trial allows the diocese to avoid what would likely have been a solid week of bad publicity, and from having to find a pool of unbiased jurors. It shields witnesses from having to testify in public.
The trial could be over before it begins, if Finn and the Diocese plead guilty this morning. If it goes forward, a judgment could come as early as this evening.
Stories of victims
Activists say the bench trial deprives victims the right to tell their stories. They say they fear that Bishop Finn will “skate," paying, at most, a fine of several thousand dollars. It's a pittance, they say, compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills Finn and the diocese have racked up fighting the case.
David Clohessy, director of Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), says he believes Finn should serve at least some time in jail. Anything short of incarceration of a high-ranking Catholic official, Clohessy says, will fail to force changes he believes are necessary in the Catholic Church.