Another Lay Review Board Thrown Under The Bus …

Posted by Joelle Casteix on March 28, 2012 in Clergy Abuse Crisis | Subscribe

Serve on a Diocese lay review board, and you can go to jail. Or at least that’s what Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn says.

Bishop Finn and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are each being charged with one misdemeanor of failure to report suspected child abuse. The charges stem from the case of Fr. Shawn Ratigan, a priest in the diocese who now faces 13 federal counts of child pornography. According to legal accounts, whistleblowers, and media reports, Bishop Finn knew about Ratigan’s suspicious behavior for at least a year, possibly more, and sat on Ratigan’s child pornography collection for six months before turning it over to the police.

Finn also didn’t inform his own lay review board until six months after Finn learned of the pornography and a month AFTER he finally notified the police. This is a year after the school principal wrote Finn a detailed letter outlining Ratigan’s suspicious behavior, including the facts that parents had found toys in his house and children’s underwear in his bushes.

The lay review board learned about the principal’s letter in the media. Not from Finn.

Yesterday, lawyers for Finn stated that charges should be dropped because he is NOT a mandatory reporter. According to the Associated Press:

Finn claims Vicar General Robert Murphy and a diocese review board — not the bishop — were responsible for reporting suspected images of child pornography to the state.

Wait. Did I miss something? Now it’s the review board’s fault? Even when Finn keeps them in the dark (on purpose) or gives them incomplete and faulty information?

I have written about the utter failure of law review boards in the past. These boards were expressly created to have NO power. Don’t believe me? From the 2001 Essential Norms (revised):

4. To assist diocesan/eparchial bishops, each diocese/eparchy will also have a review board which will function as a confidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch in discharging his responsibilities. The functions of this board may include

a. advising the diocesan bishop/eparch in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry;

b. reviewing diocesan/eparchial policies for dealing with sexual abuse of minors; and c. offering advice on all aspects of these cases, whether retrospectively or prospectively.

See that part about “confidential and consultative”?  That means that the bishop can tell them whatever he wants and doesn’t have to take their advice. As a former board member myself, I know.

How else do bishops keep lay review boards as powerless as possible? In Los Angeles, members of the review board admitted only knowing about “hypothetical” cases (while an admitted perpetrator was a board member). In Philadelphia, review board members had no idea about more than two dozen accused clerics still in ministry, until a grand jury report exposed them.

The head of the Philadelphia Lay Review Board, Ana Maria Catanzano, went so far as to say that they were chartered to only review cases where civil or criminal litigation were not involved.

So they weren’t even given cases to review that fell under the reporting statute.

Who is supposed to report? The bishop. In fact, if you carefully review the norms, under #11, you will see this:

11. The diocese/eparchy will comply with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and will cooperate in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese/eparchy will advise and support a person’s right to make a report to public authorities. (from the footnotes: The necessary observance of the canonical norms internal to the Church is not intended in any way to hinder the course of any civil action that may be operative)

That means that a criminal report must be made before ANYTHING else is done.

But Norm #9 is my favorite:

9. At all times, the diocesan bishop/eparch has the executive power of governance, within the parameters of the universal law of the Church, through an administrative act, to remove an offending cleric from office, to remove or restrict his faculties, and to limit his exercise of priestly ministry.

Because sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1) and is a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States, for the sake of the common good and observing the provisions of canon law, the diocesan bishop/eparch shall exercise this power of governance to ensure that any priest or deacon who has committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described above shall not continue in active ministry

So, Bishop Finn, the buck stops with you. You have the “executive power of governance” over an institution required under law and moral obligation to report child sexual abuse. And you blew it.

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