Missouri prosecutors want to take Kansas City bishop to trial

Saturday, March 10, 2012 | 8:39 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Jackson County's prosecutor wants a jury to decide whether a Kansas City bishop was required by Missouri law to tell police about suspected child pornography found on a priest's laptop computer.

Bishop Robert Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were charged in October with failing to report suspicions of child abuse against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan after a diocese computer technician found disturbing photos on the priest's computer, including a series of a young girl with her genitals showing.

Ratigan is facing state and federal child pornography charges. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them.

The Kansas City Star reported that Finn's lawyers were seeking to have the misdemeanor charges against Finn dismissed because the bishop isn't the diocese's designated reporter of child abuse, meaning that he had no legal duty to report suspicions to state authorities.

The attorneys argued that a response team led by Vicar General Robert Murphy was the legal designated reporter.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker responded in a filing Friday that pre-trial dismissal wasn't proper because a jury needed to decide whether Murphy was the designated reporter.

Baker noted that Murphy has said in grand jury testimony that he knew very little about the mandatory reporter law.

"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 questioned the bishop'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."

Finn is the highest-ranking Catholic official in the U.S. to face criminal prosecution related to the church's sexual abuse scandal. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

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