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Kansas City churchgoers have sympathy for bishop charged over child abuse scandal

Parishioners at a Kansas City Catholic church have expressed sympathy for their bishop, indicted in connection with a child pornography case.

A prosecutor has charged Robert W. Finn, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, with failing to report to police that a former priest at St. Patrick’s Church, Shawn Ratigan, had child pornography on his laptop computer — including photos of the children of his congregants — Reuters reports.

Ratigan was, according to the New York Times, “once well-regarded for his easy manner, fondness for children and the camera that he always brought to events at the church and the parish elementary school.”

Finn, who allegedly took five months — from Dec. 16, 2010, when the photos were discovered, to May 11, 2011 — to report Ratigan to police, has said that he was not aware at first that the images were pornographic.

He is the highest ranking member of the clergy to be charged with a crime stemming from the sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church in the U.S.  

He and the diocese pleaded not guilty Friday to one count each of failing to report suspected child abuse, the Associated Press reports. He faces a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted of the misdemeanor.

Finn also denied any wrongdoing in a statement and said he had begun work to overhaul the diocese’s reporting policies.

After interviewing parishioners about the Finn indictment on their way to mass this weekend, Reuters quotes Marguerite Accurso as saying:

“I’m disappointed…Very surprised.” But, she added, “I’m not here to judge.”

Parishioner Tom Zillner said church leaders failing to report sexual abuse by priests had been going on for many years. Finn is just the latest example, he said.

“I’m not saying he did the right thing, but he did what he felt was the right way to handle it,” Zillner said.

Both Accurso and Zillner reportedly said they had thought well of Ratigan.  “He didn’t seem unusual to me, I kind of liked the guy,” Zillner said.

Ratigan remains in jail after being charged in 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.

Meanwhile, the NYT story, headlined “In Kansas City Churches, Tiptoeing Around the Latest Scandal,” reports that priests at Kansas City parishes over the weekend agreed “not to address the matter directly from the pulpit but to offer a homily on man and God that emphasized forgiveness.”

The paper quotes the Rev. Justin Hoye of St. Patrick’s.

“Most people are savvy enough to understand what I’m saying without having to actually say it,” he explained between morning services at St. Patrick’s. “It’s a polarizing subject and not everyone is in the same place.” 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meantime, has insisted dioceses have been taking swift action in abuse cases, the AP reports.

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