A day after Bishop Robert Finn of the Catholic diocese Kansas City-St. Joseph was indicted on a charge of failing to report a priest's child abuse, the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI said Sunday they would not attempt to interfere with the legal process.
There is a legal procedure underway, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP. We have no intention of intervening in that procedure. Any intervention could be interpreted as interference.
That legal procedure began Friday, when prosecutors said that Finn and the diocese were indicted by a grand jury.
Now that the grand jury investigation has resulted in this indictment, my office will pursue this case vigorously, prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told reporters Friday. I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims.
Both Finn and the diocese pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prosecutors in Jackson County, Mo., allege that Finn and the diocese were negligent in waiting five months to tell police about hundreds of images of child pornography on a Father Shawn Ratigan's computer. Finn allegedly knew about the pictures in December 2010 but did not tell authorities until May.
The charge, a Class A misdemeanor, carries a potential fine of $1,000 and a potential one-year jail sentence for Finn, 58, as well as an unspecified fine for the diocese.
Finn issued a statement Friday, saying he would provide a vigorous defense to the charges.
Today, the Jackson County Prosecutor issued these charges against me personally and against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Finn said. For our part, we will meet these announcements with a steady resolve and a vigorous defense.
The case is noteworthy as the first indictment of a bishop for failing to report child abuse. Finn is also the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged in the decades-long scandal.
The reaction was one of surprise and marking of the historic nature of the charge. To those associated with the church and those who have followed the decades-long scandals with Catholic priests and child abuse, it signifies the prosecutors' vent of frustration and willingness to target lead officials.
This is historic, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, told The Kansas City Star.
In terms of the Catholic Church, this is an extraordinary move which is going to signal that the times have changed. Neither people nor government are going to put up with any kind of activity that looks like a coverup.