Jackson County trial against bishop, Catholic diocese to proceed

The criminal case against Bishop Robert Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph will proceed to trial, a Jackson County judge ruled Thursday.

Circuit Judge John Torrence denied defense motions seeking to dismiss the misdemeanor charges that stemmed from the handling of suspected child sex abuse allegations against the Rev. Shawn Ratigan.

In Thursday’s written ruling, Torrence also denied a joint defense request to have separate trials for the bishop and the diocese.

Ratigan’s federal court trial on child pornography charges is set for June. The case against the bishop and the diocese is scheduled for trial in September in Jackson County Circuit Court.

Gerald Handley, J.R. Hobbs and Marilyn Keller, attorneys for Finn, issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment in Thursday’s ruling.

“We will continue to strive to achieve a fair resolution of this matter,” they said.

Jean Paul Bradshaw II, one of the attorneys for the diocese, also said he was disappointed with the ruling.

“We are now preparing for the next steps in the case and its ultimate resolution,” he said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said she was pleased by the ruling.

“Our office will continue to prepare diligently for trial in this case,” she said.

The allegations against the bishop and the diocese involve the Missouri law that requires ministers and other professionals to “immediately report” suspicions of child abuse.

At a hearing last week, defense attorneys argued that the laws are unconstitutionally vague, that the grand jurors who issued indictments in the case were not properly instructed about the law and that Finn could not be held personally liable because he was not the designated reporter for the diocese.

As to Finn’s role, Torrance ruled that “the evidence in this case is sufficient to allow a jury to conclude that Bishop Finn was a designated reporter as defined by Missouri law.”

In denying the motion to sever the cases for trial, Torrence found that the issues the jury will consider are not complex.

The main question for the jury will be determining “when the respective parties were exposed to certain information and whether and when such information was reported to the appropriate authorities as required by the law of the state of Missouri,” Torrence wrote.

Torrence granted a motion by the diocese to quash a subpoena for criminal investigation sought by prosecutors. The judge ruled that the law restricts the use of such subpoenas “during the course of criminal investigations” and not as a way to obtain post-indictment information.

Baker noted that the prosecutor’s office will look at other alternatives to obtain the information sought in the subpoenas.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com

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