Opinion

July 2, 2014

Shame again falls on Catholic leadership for harmful handling of sexual abuse cases

A scathing arbitration decision released this week regarding sexual abuse by priests adds to the shame of Bishop Robert Finn’s leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

A scathing arbitration decision released this week adds to the shame of Bishop Robert Finn’s leadership of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

The stunning denunciation hit area Catholics almost six years after the church signed a $10 million settlement with 47 people who said they or a family member were sexually abused by priests.

Yet arbitrator Hollis Hanover, who handled a breach of contract lawsuit filed in 2011 that grew out of the 2008 settlement, concluded that top Catholic officials purposefully did not carry through on some pledges.

Hanover awarded $1.1 million to most of the same plaintiffs in the original lawsuit. He essentially said the church had failed to live up to its promise to take aggressive actions to deal with future sexual abuse of children. Church members once again are faced with paying for the mistakes Finn and others have made.

With that dereliction of duty, Hanover said, the church imposed even more emotional damage on the plaintiffs. They had expected that the problems they suffered would lead to wholesale positive changes by the church. Instead, he wrote, the diocese “had once again sacrificed the welfare of children so that it could ‘save the priesthood’ of a criminal, in this case a pornographer.”

The reference is to Father Shawn Ratigan and to the failure by Finn and others in the diocese to promptly report that lewd images of young children had been found on Ratigan’s computer in 2010. Eventually, Ratigan pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

In 2012, Bishop Finn was found guilty by a Jackson County judge of failing to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities. He got off easy, sentenced to two years of probation.

Finn’s criminal conviction undermined his credibility to remain bishop. For the good of Catholic congregations throughout Kansas City and the region, many expected him to resign. He refused. And in the latest case, lawyers for the diocese are fighting to throw out the award, saying Hanover exceeded his authority in the matter.

The 2008 settlement was supposed to put a stop to misdeeds.

Local Catholics again are paying a steep price, while Finn defiantly stays on as a bishop. Even a forgiving church can’t be expected to keep paying for failures of leadership. Finn’s best choice — for the church, its members and their children — is resignation.

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