Jackson County prosecutors urged a judge Friday to allow a trial in the misdemeanor criminal case against Bishop Robert Finn and the local Catholic diocese.
They filed their pleadings in response to motions to dismiss that Finn’s lawyers filed last month.
The indictment, returned in October, alleges that Finn failed to report suspicions of child abuse against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a priest in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who is charged with possessing and producing child pornography.
In a motion filed in February, defense lawyers argued that the charge should be dismissed before trial because the bishop was not the legal “designated reporter” for the diocese, and thus had no legal duty to report such suspicions to state authorities. A response team headed by Vicar General Robert Murphy had that responsibility, defense lawyers argued.
Missouri’s reporting laws require a range of professionals, including ministers, to report child abuse suspicions within 24 hours. But the bishop’s lawyers have argued that because the diocese had a designated reporter, Finn’s responsibility to make the calls had been “extinguished.”
In her response filed Friday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said that pre-trial dismissal was improper because a jury needed to decide the facts of whether Murphy was the designated reporter.
Baker revealed that Murphy said in grand jury testimony that he knew very little about such issues.
“Msgr. Murphy testified that he had not had any training or discussions about mandated reporting of suspected child abuse,” Baker wrote. “When asked if the diocese had a designated agent for mandated reporting of suspected child abuse, Murphy said, ‘Not that I’m aware of.’ ”
Baker also disputed Finn’s interpretation that his diocese’s ethics code established a designated reporter.
“The Code of Ethics cited by Finn does not designate one agent for suspicion of child abuse (reporting), let alone specifically designate the vicar general as the diocesan agent,” Baker wrote. “By its obvious terms it requires any number of persons, including all clergy such as Bishop Finn, to be mandated reporters of suspicion of child abuse.”
J.R. Hobbs, one of Finn’s lawyers, said he was studying the prosecutor’s responses.
“We plan to review the pleadings thoroughly and prepare for the hearing,” he said.
A Jackson County judge has scheduled a hearing later this month to hear lawyers’ arguments on the motions.
Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to face criminal prosecution related to the church’s sexual abuse scandal. Finn, who has been in Rome this week, has pleaded not guilty.
In statements issued since the Ratigan affair became public in May 2011, Finn has said he is cooperating with authorities and has worked to strengthen the protection of children in the diocese. Ratigan has pleaded not guilty in state and federal cases.