What’s Donohue up to in KC?

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finnjustice.jpgOver the past several of weeks, the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue has pulled out all the stops on behalf of Kansas City Bishop Robert Finn, who was indicted in Jackson County last month for failing to report suspicion of child abuse by one of his priests. Donohue has attacked the prosecutor who brought the case, the newspaper that reported on it, the abuse victims’ organization that has emphasized its importance, and the family that filed a related civil suit. He has journeyed to the City of Fountains to “energize the Catholic community in defense of” its bishop.

Why is Donohue so determined to demonstrate that Finn has been unjustly charged in the matter of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, who in August was indicted by a federal grand jury on 13 counts of abusing five young girls? In response to my criticism of his defense of Finn, Donohue referred me to an essay by Missouri lawyer Michael Quinlan that was posted on the EWTN website November 10. Relying on the factual record provided in the August 31 report on the Ratigan affair made by former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, Quinlan argues that the law Finn is charged with breaking does not apply to the circumstances of the case, and that therefore: “The prosecutor’s overzealous misuse of that law in these circumstances violates
constitutional due process protections and denies rights to fundamental
fairness.” I’m not persuaded.

For starters, Quinlan’s rehearsal of the facts of the case neglects to mention either that there had been a letter to the diocese from the principal of a Catholic elementary school complaining of Ratigan’s inappropriate behavior with children, or that Finn had admitted seeing the letter. This “previous knowledge” is the first item mentioned in the Jackson County indictment and lays essential groundwork for why Finn and the diocese had, in the words of the statute, “reasonable cause to suspect” child abuse and thus were responsible for “immediately” reporting it.

Quinlan insists that the lack of an “identifiable victim…renders the indictment erroneous and exonerates Bishop Finn from the criminal charges.” But contrary to what he claims, the Missouri statute does not “plainly contemplate” an identifiable victim–or require that such a victim actually come forward as a complainant. It merely requires that there be reasonable cause to suspect that “a child has been or may be subjected to
abuse or neglect.” Moreover, the federal indictment lists five evidently identifiable “Jane Does” as victims.

The Graves report itself expressly addresses the reason why, in the case of the most disturbing evidence in the case, Finn’s excuse for not informing his own Independent Review Board (“because there was no identifiable victim”) doesn’t wash.

Obviously, however, subjects such as the two to three year old child in the nude photograph were in no position to make a complaint. The nature of the photographs, combined with the fact that no one had ruled out the possibility that Fr. Ratigan, an avid and frequent photographer, had taken some of them, gave rise to at least a suspicion of child abuse that should have been investigated.

This, of course, is the basis for Finn’s subsequent indictment.

One could go on. In his attacks, Donohue repeatedly declares that “none” of the photographic images found on Ratigan’s computer was pornographic. But in fact, the Graves report concludes the opposite (pp. 95-96)–specifically, that some of the photos meet the standard of “lascivious exhibition of the genitals” defined in Missouri law as constituting child pornography.

Here it’s important to be aware of the nature of the most disturbing photos. Discovered by diocesan information systems manager Julie Creech, these were contained in a computer folder with an undisclosed name (the victim’s?) on it.

The first showed a little girl, face visible, standing and holding a blanket. In a “staged sequence,” the photos depicted a girl lying in a bed, from the waist down, and focused on the crotch. The girl was wearing a diaper, but with each photo, the diaper was moved gradually to expose her genitals. By the last photo, her genitals were fully exposed. According to Ms. Creech, there were approximately six to eight pictures in this sequence of photos; two displayed fully exposed genitals and one displayed her fully exposed buttocks. The little girl’s face was not visible in the staged sequence, but due to her apparent physical size and the fact that the photos were in the same folder, Ms. Creech assumed the photos were of the same little girl whose face appeared in the initial picture.

It seems perverse to consider this staged toddler striptease show as anything but pornographic–or, for that matter, lacking an identifiable victim.

Although there is some question of exactly how knowledgeable Finn was of the photographic details, the Graves report says that Creech had informed the diocese’s Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Murphy, both verbally and in writing of what she had found; and that Murphy relayed the information to Finn. And Finn made clear in his interview for the Graves report that he had more than an inkling of what the photos signified. Asked why he did not inform the members of Ratigan’s parish of them when he reassigned the priest, he said it would have been “like yelling fire in a crowded theater.”

Under the circumstances, and given Finn’s previous knowledge of the principal’s letter of complaint, charging him with the misdemeanor of “Failure of a Mandated Reporter to Report” does not seem like a close call. The fact that the bishop last week agreed to participate in a diversion program in Clay County, all but admitting guilt rather than face a second state indictment, is sufficient evidence that his lawyers understand the weakness of his position.

So why would the Catholic League–formally independent of the Church but nevertheless closely connected to the hierarchy–go so far out of its way to mount a defense of Bishop Finn? As the first American bishop ever to be charged with covering up a child abuse case, Finn has become the poster boy for a new standard in the criminal justice system: When there’s a question of child abuse in the Catholic Church, it’s the bishop who bears responsibility for notifying the civil authorities. Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker has made an example of Finn. Donohue is doing everything in his power to dissuade other prosecutors from following it.

  • anonymous

    You think that maybe Donahue’s financial backers, the archbishops of New York and Boston are urging him on?

  • Mark Silk

    They’re certainly not calling him off.

  • Jerry Slevin

    Mark, The US bishops are concerned about the “domino effect”, as they should be. If one bishop is tried and convicted, it would make it easier for the next prosecutor to go after the next bishop, etc. Bill Donohue is fighting a losing battle. After Penn State, Obama and the Feds are now in pursuit of child sexual predators and their enablers. The ball game will soon be over for priest sexual predators and their bishop protectors.
    For more info, please not the comment and cross links under the comment heading, “KC, Penn State and the Feds” , accessible by clicking on at:

  • Carolyn Disco

    An outstanding analysis as usual.
    It takes much time and effort to go through the documents to expose distortions by Finn’s backers like Donohue and Quinlan.
    I offer another description that keys off Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s definition of a lie:
    “Communicating truthfully means more than factual accuracy…There is a way of speaking which is…entirely correct and unexceptionable, but which is, nevertheless, a lie…
    When an apparently correct statement contains some deliberate ambiguity, or deliberately omits the essential part of the truth…it does not express the real as it exists in God.”

  • David Blake

    Catholics don’t know the concept of “truth”, and they don’t know the concept of “the Internet”, where truth can be preserved forever.
    Teenagers can see the real truth, then the “Catholic truth”, and determine for themselves if Catholics ever tell the truth.
    This is one of thousands of cases where they distorted the truth so badly that you would never believe anything else they said. Add to that the fact that
    – priests raped thousands and thousands of children in the US alone
    – bishops moved known child rapists
    – bishops lied about it
    – bishops, priests, and $400,000 a year spokesmen like Donahue actually fight the victims of child rape
    The future of the Catholic church depends on teenagers reactions to “Catholic truth”.

  • David, Chicago

    I think that the key to understanding Mr. Donohue’s efforts on behalf of Bishop Finn is internal church politics. Bishop Finn, a member of Opus Dei, was the kind of neo-con bishop that Catholics of Mr. Donohue’s ideological persuasion have long hoped and waited for to be appointed. Convinced that the more liberal bishops appointed during the papacy of Paul VI had largely destroyed the perfect church of the 1950s, Mr. Donohue and others hailed the appointments of bishops like Bishop Finn as signs of salvation. I estimate that Mr. Donohue simply cannot accept the fact that a bishop with Bishop Finn’s solid conservative credentials could be incompetent, or even make a one-time disastrous mistake like the Ratigan affair. I am not saying that Bishop Finn is incompetent because he is conservative. I am saying that Mr. Donohue and Catholics like him have for so long reduced the sexual abuse problem to symptoms of liberal corruption that when a conservative bishop demonstrably fails in the same way as his liberal predecessors, even with the benefit of hindsight in the current case, such Catholics simply cannot believe it. Mr. Donohue is defending more than a single bishop here. He is defending the dream of some kind of conservative restoration.

  • Nick

    I agree with David from Chicago, but I would say it also extends to the fact that the Penn State scandal’s publicity of the rampant child sex abuse in largely male-led cultural institutions (ie NCAA football, university trustees, and of, course, the Roman Catholic Church run by its club of bishops and monsignors) means that a new round of charges and accusations are likely to pile up against the Church hierarchy soon.

  • TrueCatholic

    Bill Donahue totally discredits himself,by attacking the media, the prosecutor, and the victims. But he stands firmly behind the blatant lies, and coverup, by Bishop Finn.
    Just follow the money trail. He has made millions over the years, as president of the so-called “Catholic League”.

  • Anonymous

    Donahoe is screaming because His Eminent Obesity (Dolan) is scared. The imprisonment of a bishop (who glories in, saith the Catechism, “the fullness of Holy Orders”) by secular civil authorities is anathema to Rome. If it happens, Dolan will not be such a favorite in the Curia.
    That the profane lay world may never exercise authority over the clergy is about the only principle about which Pope Benedict would ever say “Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders.”

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