Prosecutors charged the Roman Catholic bishop of Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday with failing to report a priest accused of taking lewd pictures of young children.
Bishop Robert Finn, 58, is the most senior Catholic church official in the US ever to face charges relating to child abuse, the Kansas City Star newspaper reported.
In a statement, prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said a grand jury had indicted Finn and his Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph for failing to report the conduct of Father Shawn Ratigan.
The indictment was unsealed when the bishop’s lawyers agreed to appear in court to be charged.
Finn allegedly had reasonable cause to suspect that a child may have been subjected to abuse, after hundreds of photographs of children were found on Ratigan’s laptop in December.
Those images included “a child’s naked vagina, upskirt images and images focused on the crotch,” the indictment released by the Jackson County prosecutor’s office said.
Information about Ratigan was turned over to police by an official from the diocese on May 11, nearly five months after the clergyman was arrested and the laptop images uncovered, the prosecutor’s office said.
Finn denied any criminal wrongdoing, saying in a statement that he and his 134,000-member diocese have been cooperating fully with the authorities since Ratigan’s arrest.
“With deep faith, we will weather this storm and never cease to fulfill our mission, even in moments of adversity,” the bishop said.
Ratigan, 45, was indicted by a grand jury in August on 13 counts of producing, attempting to produce and possession of child pornography in a case involving children between the ages of two and 12, sometimes while they slept.
Finn, who is affiliated with the conservative Opus Dei movement, has been a divisive figure in Kansas City, a midwestern city of nearly half a million people.
In June, the Kansas City Star called for his resignation over the Ratigan affair, saying: “Finn appears to have pushed legal limits and shattered moral guidelines by delaying actions.”
In her statement on Friday, prosecutor Peters Baker said her office would “vigorously” pursue the case.
“I want to ensure there are no future failures to report resulting in other unsuspecting victims,” she added.
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