Today, the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese takes another step toward transparency and common sense.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
The first report by the Catholic dioceses new ombudsman will be released. Jenifer Valentis two-page report will outline allegations of sexual misconduct or suspicious behavior she has received in her first year, her assessments and the status of each case.
Less encouraging are filings in some of the legal proceedings against the diocese and Bishop Robert Finn. There, officials appear to be clinging to the excuse-making that helped create this horrible situation the Rev. Shawn Ratigan guilty of child pornography charges and the diocese and Finn facing further legal troubles.
Understandably, the bishops legal team will use any viable argument to defend Finn in the civil suits and on the criminal misdemeanor charge of failing to report suspicions of child abuse.
No one is accusing Finn of abusing children. Yet holding the hierarchy accountable at some level is necessary to changing the institutional culture of the church.
Only then can Valenti and the diocese do a better job of working together to protect children.
Yet in motions to dismiss a civil suit, the diocese argues that the photographs Ratigan possessed are not child pornography or obscenity.
Thats a shallow contention now that Ratigan has pleaded guilty to using five girls to produce or attempt to produce child pornography.
Finns attorneys also point out there is a sharp distinction between inappropriate or even disturbing photographs and legally actionable photographs.
And they note the difficulty of matching plaintiffs to the photos because many did not show childrens faces. In another argument, attorneys say that only a child victim, not the parents, has standing to bring a civil suit.
OK. But parishioners live in a less legally specific world. Where context and common sense matter.
In his independent review, former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves criticized the diocese for not taking action because no identifiable victim came forward: Subjects such as the two- to three-year-old child in the nude photo were in no position to make a complaint.
And one question has never thoroughly been answered: In what world were diocesan officials living that they could discover dozens of lewd photos of young girls on a priests computer and not notify authorities?
How could such images be rationalized away? The court filings give an indication.
But Valentis report offers hope that the days of convoluted thinking may be numbered.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.