Bishop Robert Finn may be one step closer to completing his probation.
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker on Friday filed a probation status report for the spiritual leader of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
Baker’s five-page report described the status of each of nine special conditions of Finn’s probation while offering no opinion on whether the two-year probation should be dismissed. Baker did, however, praise the diocese’s ombudsman, Jenifer Valenti, and the director of child and youth protection, Carrie Cooper, for helping keep the diocese in compliance with the terms of the probation.
“The State wants to take this opportunity to commend Ms. Cooper and Ms. Valenti for their efforts on behalf of the children of the diocese,” Baker wrote. “Together they have worked tirelessly to implement changes in the culture of the diocese. These changes help to insure that children are protected.”
Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence — who convicted Finn on Sept. 6, 2012, of failing to report child abuse suspicions involving the Rev. Shawn Ratigan — will now review the report, then decide whether to dismiss Finn’s probation, which is set to expire Sept. 5. If the judge dismisses the probation, Finn’s case will become a closed record.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Finn and the diocese said they were grateful for Baker’s review and for the work of the diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.
“We share Ms. Baker’s conclusion that the tireless efforts of Ms. Valenti and Ms. Cooper have made a positive improvement for the protection of children,” the statement said. “Bishop Finn appointed Ms. Valenti as diocesan Ombudsman in 2011 to be an independent agent to receive all reports of abuse and suspicious behavior in 2011. Similarly, Ms. Cooper was appointed in 2011 to direct the efforts of the new Office of Child and Youth Protection. All members of the diocese can be encouraged and assured because of the work these women have accomplished for the protection of children.”
Torrence sentenced Finn to two years of probation, then suspended the imposition of the sentence. That meant that if Finn finished the probation without incident and completed nine steps as part of his sentence, the bishop’s criminal record would be closed to the public.
The case, which made Finn the highest-ranking U.S. Catholic cleric convicted in the church’s decades-long child sexual abuse scandal, stemmed from the church’s handling of Ratigan, on whose laptop computer a diocesan vendor found hundreds of lewd photos of young girls in December 2010. The diocese did not report the photographs to police for five months.
Ratigan pleaded guilty to state and federal child pornography charges and is serving 50 years in prison. He has since been defrocked.
The terms of Finn’s probation included ensuring “mandated reporter” training for clergy and diocesan administrative staff and instructing all teachers, counselors, clergy and other diocesan agents to report suspected crimes against children, as required by state law. It also called for the diocese to institute, with FBI help, a program to train clergy and administrative staff on what constitutes child pornography and child obscenity.
The report said the diocese’s training program, developed by Cooper, Valenti and a newly hired diocesan training coordinator, along with several law enforcement agencies, has received positive feedback.
“They have been requested to present the training module at both regional and national conferences devoted to safe environments for children,” Baker wrote.