Local News Spotlight

Lawyers for bishop, KC diocese want some evidence kept out of trial

Attorneys for Bishop Robert Finn and diocese make the argument in a pre-trial motion.

Updated: 2012-08-21T03:55:25Z

By TONY RIZZO

The Kansas City Star

Evidence that led to a Catholic priest’s child pornography conviction should not be allowed in the trial of the diocese and the bishop who supervised him, defense attorneys argue in a pre-trial motion.

Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are scheduled for a trial starting Sept. 24 in Jackson County on misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse by the Rev. Shawn Ratigan.

In their pre-trial motion, attorneys for Finn and the diocese ask a judge to exclude eight pieces of evidence they believe prosecutors intend to introduce at trial, including the contents of Ratigan’s computer hard drive that were turned over to the diocese in December 2010 and to police in May 2011.

The defense maintains that neither Finn nor another high diocesan official saw or reviewed the hard drive’s contents.

They also seek the exclusion of images found in Ratigan’s possession about the time of his arrest. Again, they maintain that those items were never seen by the bishop or other diocesan officials.

Even if a judge rules that the material is admissible, the defense says its evidentiary value is outweighed by the prejudicial effect it would have on the defendants.

Federal prosecutors used the material in question to charge Ratigan with multiple counts of producing child pornography. He recently pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Attorneys for the bishop and the diocese also want excluded from trial a memo from the diocese’s head of information technology that outlined what she found on Ratigan’s computer after the diocese received it.

Finn never was shown that memo, according to the defense motion.

“Further, even if the evidence establishes that other diocesan employees described images discovered on the Ratigan computer to Bishop Finn, there is still no evidence to indicate that Bishop Finn read the memo or saw the images,” the motion states.

And in the case of the diocese, the evidence would be relevant only if it could be shown that the diocesan official in charge of investigating complaints against priests had “actual knowledge” of the memo “during the scope and course of his employment.”

The motion also seeks to exclude another memo, written in May 2010 by the school principal at the Northland parish where Ratigan was pastor, that raised concerns about Ratigan’s behavior toward children. The memo predates the alleged criminal conduct for which the bishop and diocese are being tried, and Finn never saw or read the memo, the defense says.

The motion also asks that the prosecution not be allowed to present evidence it has sought regarding “previous knowledge of concerns regarding Father Ratigan and children” unless it specifically identifies those concerns and can show the high diocesan officials knew of them.

The defense also believes the judge should disallow evidence related to other priests and testimony about a 2008 civil lawsuit settlement between the diocese and several plaintiffs who alleged sexual abuse by priests.

A spokesman for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said prosecutors will respond in writing to the motion, probably later this week.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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