By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - The top Roman Catholic official for the Kansas City Diocese agreed on Tuesday to have his actions monitored by prosecutors in order to avoid criminal charges for failing to turn in a priest suspected of creating child pornography.
Bishop Robert Finn, the leader of the 134,000-member diocese, is the highest-ranking Catholic official ever to face U.S. criminal charges in a child sexual abuse case.
Finn was indicted by a grand jury in Jackson County last month on a misdemeanor charge of failing to report Father Shawn Ratigan to police despite months of warnings by others that the 46-year-old priest potentially posed a threat. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
The allegations against the bishop are tied to evidence that even after a church computer technician made church officials aware of hundreds of photos of young girls on Ratigan's laptop, Finn did not report it to police nor to the parents and children who interacted with Ratigan.
Ratigan is accused of taking pornographic photos of young girls, including one that showed a young girl on a bed with her panties pulled aside, exposing her genitals.
Ratigan was eventually turned in by another diocese official five months after the pictures were discovered. He has been charged with 13 counts of child pornography and is in jail awaiting trial next summer.
Clay County prosecutors were pursuing criminal charges against Finn in addition to the charges brought by Jackson County, but the settlement announced Tuesday will defer any charges in Clay County as long as the bishop complies with the terms, prosecutors said.
The agreement announced Tuesday with Clay County prosecutors gives prosecutors oversight in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese's handling of any case or complaint in which children might be victims for the next five years. It gives prosecutors five years to file charges against Finn, four years longer than the normal statute of limitations.
Finn agreed to report monthly directly to Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel White, and to "apprise him of any and all reported suspicious or alleged abuse activities involving minors" throughout the diocese's Clay County facilities, the prosecutor's office said.
"This will be a learning experience for the bishop," said White in a statement announcing the deal. "The diocese and the bishop acknowledge past reporting systems had flaws; injecting an outsider into the mix - an outsider who can trigger a criminal investigation and file charges - gives parents and children in our community confidence that if anything were to happen, it will be promptly and effectively addressed."
Finn said in a statement that he was "grateful for the opportunity" to resolve the issue.
"The children of our community must be our first priority. Each deserves no more and no less," Finn said. "I stand ready to do all within my power not only to satisfy this agreement but also to ensure the welfare and safety of all children under our care."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Jackie Frank)