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American Bishop convicted of covering up clerical sex abuse refuses to resign

By Matt Williams, The Guardian
Saturday, September 8, 2012 18:12 EDT
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Bishop Robert Finn has been sentenced to probation for failing to report a subordinate’s abuses, but he refuses to resign

Pressure is mounting on the highest ranking US catholic official yet to be convicted of covering up clerical child sex abuse to resign from the church.

Bishop Robert Finn was found guilty Friday of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities, prompting calls for him to step down or be booted from office.

Advocates for the victims of clerical sex abuse have challenged the Vatican directly, calling on the Pope to step in and dismiss Finn from his position as bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph.

But despite a growing campaign to force his ouster, church officials have maintained that he isn’t going anywhere – despite the conviction.

“The bishop looks forward to continuing to perform his duties, including carrying out the important obligations placed on him by the court,” diocese spokesman Jack Smith said in a statement.

That message comes despite some Roman Catholics pushing for a resignation, with some church members launching a Facebook page titled “Bishop Finn Must Go.”

Among the posts was one that listed contact information for the Vatican and urged parishioners to voice their displeasure with Finn at the highest levels.

Pope Benedict XVI alone has authority over bishops. Through the decades-long abuse scandal, only one US bishop has stepped down over his failures to stop abusive clergy: Cardinal Bernard Law, who in 2002 resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Finn was sentenced Friday to two years of supervised probation in relationship to the hushing up of suspicious activities by Reverend Shawn Ratigan.

The bishop failed to respond to warnings the diocese received from a parish elementary school principal detailing suspicious behaviour by Ratigan around children.

Instead of reading the memo and looking into the claims, Finn left it up to subordinates to handle the matter. It took a year before he finally read a five-page document from the school head.

Finn was also aware of nude photos of children found on Ratigan’s laptop computer in December 2010. But still the bishop failed to act. Instead of turning them over to police, Finn sent Ratigan to live at a Missouri convent.

Authorities were eventually handed the photos in May 2011 by Monsignor Robert Murphy – against Finn’s wishes, according to court documents – after Ratigan continued to violate church orders to stay away from children and not take any pictures of them.

Ratigan pleaded guilty last month to five child pornography counts, but has yet to be sentenced. Prosecutors have requested he spend the rest of his life in prison.

In court on Friday, Finn apologised for the pain his failure to report Ratigan caused.

But for many, the only course open for the bishop is for him to step down.

“Now that our justice system says he’s guilty, he has lost his ability to lead our diocese,” Patricia Rotert, a Catholic church member in Kansas City, said Friday. “He’s lost his credibility. There is turmoil and angst around him and I don’t think he can bring people together.”

Meanwhile, advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called on Pope Benedict to intervene.

In a letter to the Pontiff, SNAP director David Clohessy wrote: “Now, for the first time in US history, you have a diocese headed by a proven criminal. You must act if you are serious about making the church safer for children, discouraging future cover-ups in child sex cases, and ameliorating the wounds of tens of thousands of suffering adult victims and millions of betrayed parishioners.”

Dismissing Finn would “strongly deter other church officials from acting recklessly, callously and deceitfully in other child sex cases”, Clohessy added.

Finn’s conviction comes just months after that of of Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia.

Lynn, who supervised other clergy as an aide to the cardinal, was convicted of felony child endangerment and became the first US church official sent to prison for his handling of abuse complaints. He is appealing his three-to-six-year sentence.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

 
 
 
 
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