It has been seven years since the Roman Catholic Church’s investigative board of laity warned that, beyond the 700 priests dismissed for sexually abusing children, “there must be consequences” for the diocesan leaders who recycled criminal priests through unsuspecting parishes. American church authorities have done nothing to heed this caution.
Bishop Finn, who professed his innocence under the indictment, had previously outraged church faithful by acknowledging that he knew of the photos last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.
This occurred despite the requirements of state law — and the bishop’s own policy vows — that suspected crimes against children be immediately reported. The priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, continued to attend church events and allegedly abuse children until he was indicted this year on 13 counts of child pornography.
Bishop Finn is only the first ranking prelate in the nationwide scandal to be held criminally liable for the serial misbehavior of a priest in his diocese. Investigations have shown that many more diocesan officials across the country worked assiduously to bury the scandal from public view over the years, despite continuing damage inflicted on thousands of innocent youngsters.
In 2004, the nation’s bishops promised unqualified cooperation with law enforcement. They instituted zero-tolerance reforms for priests but failed to create a credible process for bringing bishops to account. Missouri officials deserve credit for puncturing the myth that church law and a bishop’s authority can somehow take precedence over criminal law — and the safety of children.
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