Courtroom benches are virtually identical to church pews.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
Eerily appropriate then that it was from such wooden benches on Thursday that a crowd heard a Jackson County judge declare Bishop Robert Finn guilty. The dioceses highest figure failed to protect children. And his rank didnt allow him to get away with it. Not completely.
The court actions were a procedural, unsatisfactory cap to the most painful saga that has ever faced local Catholics. And be clear, they are among the damaged. Their church, the place where they tithed and placed their faith and the care of their children, has been symbolically on trial through the decades-long scandals. Finn is just the figurehead who finally had to face the legal system. Thats the scope of the passion behind the proceedings.
But within the confines of the law, Finns guilt on one count only makes sense. The charges were never more than misdemeanors. And even though they were powerful by virtue of being leveled against a sitting bishop, there were limits.
Nothing that could feasibly happen in that courtroom would have ever satisfied the churchs strident critics or its most faithful supporters. The bench trial route that the Jackson County prosecutor took was judicious, expedient and considerate to the families of the victims of Shawn Ratigan. He sits in federal prison, convicted of pornography charges. Had Finns case gone to trial, parents faced the possibility of having to appear in court and identify their children in Ratigans pornographic photos.
But this is not closure and most certainly not reconciliation.
The most troubling questions remain. And they will continue to, even if Finn is forced to resign, which he should do to restore dignity to the diocese and offer it a new start under different leadership.
Without the opportunity to thoroughly grill Finn and his staff in a trial, we will never fully understand how they could be so disconnected from common sense. The sense is that Finn reacted like some church officials in the past. Perhaps he didnt grasp the danger of pedophiles and initially discounted the grooming of victims as the antics of an emotionally awkward man.
Packed onto those courtroom benches were survivors of decades-old sexual abuse by priests, faithful churchgoers, lawyers, victim advocates and two current priests.
Past victims are appropriately called survivors. They are brave souls, most grown now, who looked at Finn and finally saw a church leader held accountable.
Many more survivors have never come forward. Several victims locally may have taken their own lives. That kind of pain, decades deep and lifelong, could not possibly have been addressed by one afternoon in court.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.