KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – A Jackson County grand jury broke new ground Friday, indicting Catholic Bishop Robert W. Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on child-endangerment charges for failure to report suspected child abuse by a priest.
The charge is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a potential of up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine for Finn, 58. The diocese just faces a fine. Both defendants pleaded not guilty Friday.
“The fact that this is a misdemeanor complaint should not diminish the significance of this charge,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters-Baker told CNN. “This is a significant charge. To my knowledge, a charge like this has not been leveled before.”
Prosecutors say that between December 16, 2010 and May 11, Finn has reasonable cause to believe that a child was subjected to abuse by Priest Shawn Ratigan.” Peters-Baker told reporters that reasonable cause included the discovery of hundreds of photographs on Ratigan’s laptop, including a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and other images of the crotch area.
Ratigan was indicted in August of 13 counts of child pornography. Several lawsuits filed by Ratigan’s victims claimed the diocese and Finn knew about the laptop photos for several months before alerting the authorities.
“Bishop Finn denies any criminal wrongdoing and has cooperated at all stages with law enforcement, the grand jury, the prosecutor’s office, and the Graves Commission,” Finn’s layer Gerald Handley said in a statement through the diocese. “We will continue our efforts to resolve this matter.
“In response to these charges Bishop Finn said, ‘Months ago after the arrest of Shawn Ratigan, I pledged the complete cooperation of the diocese and accountability to law enforcement. We have carried this out faithfully. Diocesan staff and I have given hours of testimony before grand juries, delivered documents, and answered questions fully.'”