Word out of Kansas City is that Bishop Robert Finn and his diocese will be spared the indignity of a trial by jury later this month on criminal misdemeanor charges of failing to report a suspected pedophile priest to the proper civil authorities. Instead, a judge today will hear evidence agreed upon by prosecution and defense, then render an immediate verdict.
To this old courthouse reporter it sounds like a plea bargain without the plea. A year ago, a diocese-commissioned report by a former U.S. attorney laid out the facts of the case in such a way as to leave no doubt that Finn & Co. not only failed to follow their own procedures but also ignored Missouri's reporting law in the process. The bishop will presumably claim that he didn't mean to break the law. The judge will presumably be unimpressed. I predict a fine plus probation. A little community service would be nice.
This is the first time an American Catholic bishop has been criminally charged with covering up evidence of sexual abuse by a priest. Together with the conviction of Msgr. William Lynn in Philadelphia in June, the U.S. justice system has served notice that it expects ecclesiastical authorities to behave like anyone else in a supervisory position when suspicions of abuse by a subordinate come to light. It would be good if Bishop Finn gets up in court today and acknowledges that responsibility. We'll see.