Conviction of Catholic bishop gives child-abuse victims hope

A member of the Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy has been convicted of protecting a pedophile priest — finally. It has taken a decade after the first stories broke about the widespread sexual abuse of children by priests and the concerted effort by their superiors to sweep the issue under the rug, for a bishop to be held responsible for the ever-growing scandal that has rocked the church. More than 5,000 priests have been accused of abusing 12,000 children and teenagers. The Catholic Church in America has paid out more than $2 billion to settle lawsuits.

But through it all, the bishops who protected the pedophile priests have gone unscathed. Until now.

Last week, Bishop Robert W. Finn of the diocese of Kansas City was convicted on one misdemeanor charge of failing to report the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who had taken hundreds of pornographic pictures of young girls, according to the New York Times. Finn was sentenced by Judge John M. Torrence in Jackson County Circuit Court to two years of court-supervised probation.

“I am pleased and grateful that the prosecution and the courts have allowed this matter to be completed,” the bishop said in court. “The protection of children is paramount.”

And yet, as the court proceedings revealed, Finn sent Father Ratigan for treatment after he attempted suicide, reassigned him to a convent and ordered him to stay away from children. But the Times reported that the priest continued to attend church events and take lewd pictures of girls for five more months, until church officials reported him in May 2011 to the authorities — without the bishop’s approval.

Father Ratigan pleaded guilty in August to federal child pornography charges and is awaiting sentencing.

But while the conviction of a bishop has grabbed the attention of public because it seemed the church’s hierarchy was bullet proof, the sentence of probation is lenient to a fault.

Consider this paragraph in the Times’ story about how the priest was caught:

“The case began when The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a charismatic parish priest who had previously attracted attention for inappropriate behavior with children, took his laptop computer in for repairs in December 2010. A technician immediately told church officials that the laptop contained what appeared to be pornographic photographs of young girls’ genitals, naked and clothed.”

Sense of urgency

The sense of urgency displayed by the technician was certainly not reflected in Bishop Finn’s attitude. Indeed, case after case in this sordid tale of betrayal by men of God has revealed a concerted effort by the church’s hierarchy to cover up the sins of its priests.

That attitude was on display in a letter signed by the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican who cited “the good of the universal church” as justification for his refusal to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children.

The letter was written by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who today serves the church as Pope Benedict XVI.

In addition to expressing concern for the “universal church,” the then cardinal warned of the “detriment granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful.”

This is the attitude that has permeated the Catholic Church in America, which is why a prison sentence was called for in Bishop Finn’s case.

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