Thursday’s verdict by Jackson County, Mo., Circuit Court Judge John Torrence came at the end of a one-day bench trial. Prosecutors wanted to spare victims the pain of testifying, and the diocese wanted to avoid a lengthy trial that could have exposed further embarrassing details about Finn’s record.
Both Finn and the diocese faced two separate misdemeanor counts of failure to report suspected child abuse. Torrence found Finn guilty on one charge, and said there was insufficient evidence to convict on the second. At the request of prosecutors, he then dismissed both counts against the diocese.
Finn could have faced up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine on each charge. Torrence gave Finn a suspended sentence of two years’ probation, on condition that he complete the probation period without incident and complies with a series of steps.
Last November, Finn avoided trial on similar charges in another county in the diocese by agreeing to give prosecutors oversight of the diocese’s sex abuse reporting procedures in that county.
In the long run, Finn’s viability as a bishop may depend on how local Catholics react.
The case has left many of the faithful in the diocese discouraged and furious, and it is not clear Finn can reverse that negativity.
Finn’s statement after his conviction carefully pointed to inadequate diocesan “process and procedures” as the reason that Ratigan was not reported to police, and his expression of regret was for policy failures and “for the hurt that these events have caused.”
Until this week Finn had vigorously rejected the charges that he had done anything wrong, and had hired a high-priced defense team to make his case. The diocese revealed this week that Finn’s legal bills have cost the diocese and its insurers nearly $1.4 million over the past year, and that parishes will have to kick in more money to cover the outlays. Finn and the diocese still face numerous civil suits resulting from the case.
“How can the diocese move forward after all this?” the Rev. Gerald Waris, a retired priest who was pastor of the church where Ratigan last served, told the Kansas City-based National Catholic Reporter. “Most of us who have worked in parishes and continue to work here, we’ll have to find a way to rise above it all.”
The Vatican does not like to be pressured into taking action, especially when it comes to disciplining a bishop. But the pope is also trying to promote accountability as a solution to the sexual abuse crisis and could be waiting to see how things play out.
Observers note that Finn is 59 and does not have to retire until 75. That could provide time for him to restore his reputation, or the prospect of having Finn as bishop for 15 more years could serve as a spur to Catholics to register their anger now.
“Rome is not immune to public pressure,” said Cafardi. “It’s now up to the faithful and the clergy of the diocese to come forward.”
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