On Friday Bishop Robert Finn, of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, became the highest ranking member of the Catholic Church to be charged for covering up child abuse. Bishop Finn and the diocese have been accused of taking about six months to tell authorities that they'd found child pornography on a priest's laptop, during which time he allegedly abused more children. The indictment is a landmark event in the church's ongoing struggle with allegations of sexual abuse by its members. Yet, during yesterday's services priests in the diocese met the issue with even more silence, choosing to discuss forgiveness rather than addressing the new developement directly.
Bishop Finn was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest, and is facing a year in jail and a fine of $1,000, according to CNN. Prosecutors say that Bishop Finn learned that Father Shawn Ratigan, a priest from Independence Missouri, had hundreds of images of child pornography on his laptop in December 2010, "including a child's naked vagina, upskirt images and images focused on the crotch area." A school principal also wrote a letter to church officials saying he believed Father Ratigan may be a child predator, but no one in the church contacted authorities until May. The New York Times reports:
Instead Father Ratigan was sent to live in a convent and told to avoid contact with minors. But he continued to attend children's parties, spend weekends in the homes of parish families and, with the bishop's permission, presided at a girl's first communion, according to interviews and court documents. Despite a pledge by the diocese to immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement, Father Ratigan was not reported until May. The congregants here, who had been told that Father Ratigan had left after an illness, were shocked when he was arrested and charged with child pornography.
The Rev. Justin Hoye of Kansas City said he'd reached out to other church leaders in the diocese to figure out how to address the controversy with his congregation on Sunday. Eventually he settled on a homily that highlighted the idea of forgiveness. He explained, "Most people are savvy enough to understand what I'm saying without having to actually say it ... It's a polarizing subject and not everyone is in the same place."
Vaguely alluding to the issue doesn't really send the message that the church is being forthcoming about abuse allegations, and earlier this weekend the diocese said in a statement that "Bishop Finn denies any criminal wrongdoing." If the indictment signals that authorities are starting to crack down on clergy who tolerate abuse, this may just be the first of many more homilies on forgiveness.